By Samuel Kyei and Wilson Parawira
March 23 is marked as the World Optometry Day and the following week as the World Optometry Week. World Optometry Day is generally celebrated to create awareness about optometry as a profession.
The World Council of Optometry (WCO) is an international organisation dedicated to the enhancement and development of eye and vision care worldwide. According to the World Council of Optometry, optometry is a healthcare profession that is autonomous, educated and regulated (licensed/registered).
And optometrists are the primary healthcare practitioners of the eye and visual system, who provide comprehensive eye and vision care, which includes refraction and dispensing, detection/diagnosis and management of disease in the eye, and the rehabilitation of conditions of the visual system.
Customarily, the field of optometry began with the primary focus of correcting refractive error through the use of spectacles. However, modern day optometry has evolved through time so that the educational curriculum includes intensive training in the diagnosis and management of ocular diseases in countries where the profession is established and regulated.
Optometrists (also known as Doctors of Optometry for those holding the O.D. degree or previously known as Ophthalmic Opticians in the United Kingdom) are healthcare professionals who provide primary eyecare through comprehensive eye examinations to detect and treat various visual abnormalities and eye diseases.
Being a regulated profession, an optometrist’s scope of practice may differ depending on the location. Thus, disorders or diseases detected outside the treatment scope of optometry are referred to relevant medical professionals for proper care, more commonly to ophthalmologists who are physicians that specialise in tertiary medical and surgical care of the eye.
Optometrists typically work closely together with other eyecare professionals such as ophthalmologists and opticians to deliver quality and efficient eyecare to the general public. Collectively, the total blind community in every developing country where preventable blindness is a public health problem represents a sizeable economic and social burden for the government and society.
Avoidable blindness places a burden on the overwhelmed and underfunded health systems in the low-middle income countries. Avoidable blindness accounts for the highest burden of blindness and poses great challenges in prevention and control, particularly in resource constrained environments such as Zimbabwe.
In Zimbabwe alone, eye health experts estimate that 10 percent of the population is blind with the major causes of blindness being cataracts, glaucoma, trauma, diabetes complication — (diabetic retinopathy) and refractive errors. While the burden of eye health is high in Zimbabwe, there has been no training of optometrists 37 years after independence.
The term “optometry” comes from the Greek words (opsis; “view”) and (metron; “something used to measure”, “rule”). The word entered the language when the instrument for measuring vision was called an optometer, (before the terms phoropter or refractor were used).
The root word opto is a shortened form derived from the Greek word ophthalmos meaning, “eye”. Like most healthcare professions, the education and certification of optometrists is regulated in most countries. Optometric professionals and optometry-related organisations interact with governmental agencies, other healthcare professionals, and the community to deliver eye — and vision-care.
As at 1993 there were four countries in Africa with optometric teaching institutes. These were Sudan, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and Tanzania.
The latest to join the trail is Zimbabwe. Bindura University of Science Education has launched a four-year degree programme leading to the award of BSc Optometry.
The first of its kind in Zimbabwe, there are currently eleven pioneering students on the programme. The main objective of the programme is to meet the needs of the present and prospective medical and public health sectors for skilled graduates in Optometry. This programme is intended to help improve accessibility, manpower and affordability to optometric services after 37 years of independence. Eye care services have remained inaccessible and unaffordable to many Zimbabweans, with most optometrists training and getting employed outside the country, leaving many locals in dire need of the service.
It is with great delight that Bindura University of Science Education joins the global family of Optometrists to celebrate World Optometry Day. We have come to stay and are poised to contribute our quota to eye care in Zimbabwe.
Long live Optometry!
Prof Wilson Parawira is a Professor of Microbiology and Biotechnology and is the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science at Bindura University of Science Education.
Professor Samuel Kyei is Visiting Professor of Optometry at Bindura University of Science Education.