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Twenty two reasons to be excited about growth of global optometry

Twenty two people from five nations are currently in Sydney brought together through the Australian Leadership Awards (ALA) Fellowship program funded by the Australian Agency for International Development and hosted by the International Centre for Eyecare Education (ICEE). The ALA Fellowship aims to promote knowledge, education links and establish enduring ties between Australia and a new generation of global leaders in eye care.

The attending fellows from China, Ethiopia, India, Vietnam and Pakistan are joining a three week program of lectures, workshops and practical sessions across a range of topics to improve teaching skills, including clinical teaching and improving assessment skills of optometric educators. The list of guest lecturers instructing the ALA Fellows includes many well respected leaders from the eye care industry.

Motivation for ICEE hosting the ALA Fellowship program is fuelled by the priority to build optometric capacity in developing communities, with the aim of dramatically increasing qualified eye care personnel to deliver eye care services to communities where none exist or are beyond the financial reach of the local people. The program has a public health focus including cultural experiences in delivering education, gender and disability in optometry.

Dr Luigi Bilotto, Director of Global Human Resource Development for ICEE, believes generating change by initiating growth of the optometry profession from the ground up in developing communities is the positive way forward. “If you want to build sustainable eye care systems you need well trained people and you need infrastructure, and in order to create those human resources you need a locally available way of educating people,” he said. “Not only do you need skilled and qualified personnel to deliver services to patients but also skilled and qualified educators, to help build optometry and other eye care education systems,” said Dr Bilotto.

There is a stark contrast in ratios of numbers of optometry practitioners and educators to population between Australia and many developing countries. Australia has five optometry schools and around 3500 registered optometrists for its 22 million people. India, with a population of more than a billion people, currently has only around 9000 four year trained optometrists and 40 000 two year trained optometry personnel.1 It’s estimated India needs around 100 optometry schools and to produce around 5000 optometrists each year to create the 115 000 practitioners it needs to adequately service its population.2

“Every organisation with faculty attending the ALA Fellowship program is currently running, or setting up, an optometry school in their country,” says Dr Bilotto. “Bringing the faculty from different regions together will help develop networks which will assist with the progression of learning for teachers, clinicians and researchers involved.”

Attending guest lecturer Professor Kovin Naidoo Global Programs Director for ICEE expressed his support for the program. “A fundamental barrier in the development of optometry in many underserved communities has been the lack of educational infrastructure for optometrists and other eye care personnel,” said Professor Naidoo.

“Just two weeks ago we saw a great achievement for the optometry profession in Eritrea, where we celebrated the graduation of the first 16 optometry technicians to qualify at the School of Optometry in Asmara. The three year diploma course is a collaboration between ICEE, the Ministry of Health and the Asmara College of Health Sciences,” he said.

“Ultimately what we are trying to do is to serve the people in most need by building local capacity which is sustainable. If we can help develop the skills and knowledge of the fellows then they’ll pass that on through their education institutions and ultimately benefit their communities for the long term,” Professor Naidoo concluded.

Media Contact

Selina Madeleine, Communications Manager for ICEE, (02) 9385 5282, +61 414 071149 s.madeleine@icee.org

About International Centre for Eyecare Education

ICEE (pron. "I See")is a global non-profit, non-governmental organisation. In the last ten years ICEE has delivered sustainable eye care services, education and training programmes in more than 53 countries. ICEE is focused on the elimination of avoidable blindness by developing solutions with communities in need of eye care, thereby improving opportunities in education, employment and quality of life. ICEE is supported by the Brien Holden Vision Institute and Optometry Giving Sight. For more info, visit our website: www.icee.org

References

1 Delhi Declaration on Optometry and Blindness Prevention in India. Accessed at: http://www.indianoptometryfederation.org/attachments/delhideclaration.pdf

2 Holden BA, Fricke TR, May Ho S, Wong R, Schlenther G, Cronje S, Burnett A, Papas E, Naidoo KS, Frick KD, ‘Global vision impairment due to uncorrected presbyopia’, Archives of Ophthalmology, Vol 126 (No. 12), Dec 2008.

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