CHICAGO – Optometry services must be upscaled and made available in rural areas of developing communities as the first step in beginning to treat the 700 million people with vision impairment who need just an eye exam and glasses, according to the CEO of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness.
Peter Ackland, via video presentation, told attendees here at the World Council of Optometry meeting that “10% of the world’s population has a problem with vision simply because they’re not getting a proper eye exam and glasses.
“About 13 million of these numbers are children,” he continued. “Probably 90% of children won’t be in school or, if they’re in school, they’re underperforming.”
Older people lose employment opportunities, Mr. Ackland, added. “This spirals people into poverty,” he said.
The problem will continue to get worse unless something is done, he said.
“We need to massively scale up the optometry services that exist already and make them particularly available in rural communities in the developing countries,” he said.
Mr. Ackland mentioned success in India with vision centers where low-cost spectacles are provided. “The centers become self-sustainable,” he said. “The money they get from selling spectacles covers expenses. We think this model should be rolled out extensively.”
Mr. Ackland also stressed the need for a major concentration on human resources.
“We think an additional 40,000 to 50,000 people need to be trained in optometry services,” he said. “They don’t need to be full-fledged optometrists. Some countries have a 2-year program to be an optometric technician. Another 18,000 or 20,000 or so need to be trained as dispensers.”
He also recommended that all children in school be screened. “This could be done by a simple screening by schoolteachers, who can then refer children in their classes who they think may have a problem to someone to do a proper refraction and assessment,” Mr. Ackland said.
He recommended getting involved by volunteering to provide optometry services in developing countries.
“This could be doing a refraction and prescribing spectacles, but probably more sustainable and useful is going to some of the schools of optometry and having a permanent relationship, doing lectures and training,” Mr. Ackland said. “Use your business skills help a vision center to be sure the model is sustainable and the finances work. Support Optometry Giving Sight. Maybe you can encourage your patients to donate a dollar or two per exam to help.”