By Afe Dania
Annually, March 23 is set aside as World Optometry Day to raise awareness on the roles and responsibilities of optometrists as primary eye care providers. Optometrists and other eye care professionals are celebrated worldwide on this.
The Day is an opportunity to shine the spotlight on thisimportant eye care profession and is important in raising the awareness of eye care among the public.
Optometrists also use the celebration to encourage the public to have regular eye examinations for diagnosis and treatment of eye ailments by professionals who understand optics, ophthalmic optics, eye anatomy and physiology as well as all the diseases and conditions that affect the eye. These diseases and conditions, when left uncorrected, cause vision impairment that often result in loss of education, employment opportunities, low productivity and impaired quality of life.
According to the World Council of Optometry,“Optometry is a health care profession that is autonomous, educated, and regulated (licensed/registered) and Optometristsare the primary health care professionals of the Eyes and Visual system, who provide comprehensive eye and vision care, which includes refraction and dispensing, detection/diagnosis and management of diseases in the eye,and the rehabilitation of conditions of the visual system.”
The World Optometry Day was started in 1986 by the International Optometric and Optical League to celebrate the growing profession of Optometry in the world. Currently Optometry is practiced at different levels in the world with some countries still not having the profession. The growth in Optometry which has become rapidly increasing is commendable as it addresses a huge growing need. And, the success of optometry in many parts of the world, over the years, can be traced to excellent education and licensure standards to build public trust.
In the early and middle 20th century, Optometrists perfectly performed the art of refraction and concentrated on prescribing the proper spectacles, tailor-made for each patient based on their specific optical and binocular vision needs. By the mid to late 20th century it was clear that Optometrists could and would learn, not only to refract and prescribe, but to evaluate for all types of ophthalmic diseases, many of which could be treated without surgery.
Furthermore, Optometrists, in the 1970s, in a few countriesacquired the training to use diagnostic medications to evaluate the eyes. In the 1980s and 90s, some of us got the legislative backing (LFN,CAP 09 refers) to treat eye diseases with topical and oral medications. Thus Optometrists became the primary eye care practitioners and the profession spread around the world with this idea in mind.
In Nigeria, Optometrists are much more numerous than any other eye care professionals and better spread from the rural areas to urban settings across all spheres of human settlements. They are more accessible, affordable and patient-friendly with good interactive prowess in terms of needed communication which enable them to clerk, take good history and get useful information on the medical and Ophthalmic history as well as use scientific methods to apply Optometric and medical knowledge, and then recommend treatment or professional referral to other medical/health experts as needed.
They professionally apply acquired knowledge to prevent eye diseases and injuries. But, due to technological growth, thescope of practice has also evolved and still evolving.
According to the President of Volunteer Optometric Services for Humanity (VOSH International), Dr J Daniel Twelker, Optometrists in many countries are working hard to ensure proper recognition and to get Optometric training and education, and practice to international best standards.
Twelker further posits that the power of collaboration and researching/learning together, is why our education initiative seeks to maximise opportunities to support the development of Optometric education across the world.
However, there is still a long way to go to improve public awareness about the importance of good eye health,prevention of visual impairments/blindness and the role each of the eye care professionals – Optometrists,Ophthalmologists, Ophthalmic Nurses, Opticians, Ophthalmic Assistants and workers play within.
Looking at the Nigerian context, Optometry has grown in education and scope with over 15 universities offering it as healthcare course of study leading to the award of Doctor of Optometry (OD). The profession is regulated by the Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians Registration Board of Nigeria (ODORBN) and the scope includes Eye examination to determine refractive errors and other departures from the optimally healthy and visually efficient eyes; Correction of refractive errors using spectacles and Contact Lenses; Corrections of errors of binocularity by orthoptics; Management of eye infections that do not pose a threat to theintegrity of the visual system; Ocular first aid.
The Specialty Areas include, Primary Health Care Optometry; Paediatric Optometry; Cornea and Contact Lenses; Orthoptics; Low Vision and Rehabilitative Optometry; Ocular Health and; Public Health.
There are several career opportunities for a Doctor of Optometry can pursue careers in the areas of Eye Clinics/Hospitals (Private and Public); University lecturers; Research fellows in research institutions; Medical Corps of the Armed Forces, Police, Immigration, Customs Services, Federal Road Safety Corps, etc.; Consultant to companies, Ministries, and Parastatals; Sports and Environment Vision Consultants; Public Health Practitioners
As important as the Optometric profession is, it is pertinent to point out that the profession has not been well rooted very Akwa Ibom State.
With an estimated 6.2million people, and 31 local government areas, the state has only 10 Optometrists employed in the Civil Service. Others work in the private sector. With many general hospitals and primary health centres, there is the urgent need to employ more Optometrists in the State to join in the fight against blindness and visual impairments.
Currently, records available in the Optometrists register shows that there are over 20 young Doctors of Optometry resident in the state who could be engaged by government.
I hereby use the opportunity of the 2022 World Optometry Day celebration to draw the Akwa Ibom State government attention to the plight of Optometry and Optometrists and advocate that these young doctors be engaged in the public sector of the state.
The public health of the people is now increasingly challenged with vision impairment and avoidable blindness that are confronting the world. This underscores the need to urgently support Optometry as an independent primary health care profession, well educated and licensed profession that can deliver more efficient, accessible and equitable care to our communities.
As the Nigerian Optometric Association marks the 2022 World Optometry Day, we urge you to support your Optometrists, Optometry schools, create job opportunities in the public sector and let your local and national leaders know how much you value the profession.
Happy 2022 World Optometry Day to everyone in the world, particularly in Africa, Nigeria and most especially in Akwa Ibom State.
Dr. Afe Dania (OD;MPH;FNCO) is a public health Optometrist; a former two-term chairman of the Nigerian Optometric Association, Akwa Ibom branch and current vice president (South) of the Association. firstname.lastname@example.org+234-80-37-933-933.