Health and Healthcare

Mobilizing towards eye health equity: Action steps for developing economies

The Nigerian Optometric Association held its 45th National Conference/ Annual General Meeting and Vision Expo in Abuja, Nigeria. The event focused on leveraging partnerships to transform optometry and eye care in West Africa.

The Nigerian Optometric Association held its 45th National Conference/ Annual General Meeting and Vision Expo in Abuja, Nigeria. The event focused on leveraging partnerships to transform optometry and eye care in West Africa. Image: Nigerian Optometric Association

Dr. Princess Ifeoma Ike
Public Health Optometrist/CEO Princess Vision Eye Clinic Limited Abuja, Nigeria and Global Shaper, Abuja Hub, World Economic Forum
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  • The Nigerian Optometric Association held its 45th National Conference/AGM and Vision Expo in Abuja, Nigeria.
  • The event focused on leveraging partnerships to transform optometry and eye care in West Africa.
  • Developing countries need support to provide sustainable and equitable eye care services to tackle preventable sight loss.

The eye is undoubtedly one of the most important organs in the body, making preventable sight loss a global challenge that needs a global solution.

The Nigerian Optometric Association (NOA), led by the National President, Dr Obinna Awiaka, held its 45th National conference/AGM and Vision Expo in Abuja, Nigeria. The event brought global leaders, bureaucrats, industry experts, and the eye care community together to map out ways of achieving the event theme "Leveraging partnerships to transform Optometry and Eye Care in West Africa". At the meeting, Dr Obinna Awiaka stated that it was pertinent to note that optometrists, as primary eye care providers, have been battling at the forefront of the war against visual impairment and blindness.

Improving eye health and advancing SDGs

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which include those relating to overall health, economic productivity, poverty, education, and gender equality, can be achieved by improving the availability and quality of eye health services globally. In 2020, 1.1 billion people were living with unaddressed vision impairment, and this statistic is expected to grow to 1.8 billion by 2050.

One of the most important recommendations for the future of eye care is Integrated People-Centred Eye Care - an initiative built on the WHO's global strategy for people-centred and integrated health services endorsed at the 69th World Health Assembly in 2016.

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Implementing Integrated People-Centred Eye Care

We need Integrated People-Centred Eye Care for three major reasons:

1) There’s a strong connection between health and well-being, high-quality education, economic growth, and their marked impact on reducing poverty and gender inequality. Consequently, integrated people-centred eye care remains the only approach to tackle the burden surrounding vision impairment and blindness and advance towards achieving the SDGs.

2) In many countries where the national health service does not provide eye health services, it is managed in silos. Planning does not consider eye health data because it is largely absent from the mainstream health information system. Thus, integrated people-centred eye care is required to draw attention to the problems associated with ocular health and the lack of planning and funding in such countries.

3) Research shows that people-centred eye care services provide long-term advantages, especially through improved health outcomes and enhanced employee satisfaction.

The shortage of skilled eye care workers has hampered the delivery of eye care in developing countries like Nigeria.
The shortage of skilled eye care workers has hampered the delivery of eye care in developing countries like Nigeria. Image: Nigerian Optometric Association

Financing for eye care

To develop, run, and sustain eye care programmes successfully, several resources are required - finance being among the most essential of these.

During the event, the President of the Nigerian Optometric Association, Dr Obinna Awiaka, called on governments of developing countries like Nigeria to invest in eye care at all levels of healthcare, especially primary eye care, to extend its reach and avoid the impending blindness epidemic.

Ophthalmic training for every member of the eye care team and across all service levels is needed. In picture: The Nigerian Optometric Association President, Dr Obinna Awiaka, and other members.
Ophthalmic training for every member of the eye care team and across all service levels is needed. In picture: The Nigerian Optometric Association President, Dr Obinna Awiaka, and other members. Image: Nigerian Optometric Association

Narrowing the gap between eye care needs and service provision

The shortage of skilled eye care workers has hampered the delivery of eye care in developing countries like Nigeria.

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Ideally, eye health workers would be distributed based on demand. The need for eye care in rural areas is typically significantly greater than in metropolitan areas, however, very few eye care professionals choose to work in rural areas, frequently because of the absence of eye care facilities and poor working conditions.

This is how this yawning gap can be bridged:

  • Governments must recognise the eye care workforce as a productive investment rather than an expense. Investment in trained eye health personnel like optometrists, who are the primary eye care providers through employment opportunities, is essential to reduce avoidable visual impairment and blindness.
  • Ophthalmic training for every member of the eye care team and across all service levels is needed. For example, the Nigerian population has a higher prevalence of cataracts than other Sub-Saharan African countries. This is a difference that must be taken into consideration when financing, employing, and training eye care workers.
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