India needs more optometrists to address preventable blindness

As many as 10 crore Indians suffering from blindness-related ailments have no access to a pair of glasses, mainly due to lack of optometrists in tier III and tier IV cities and villages, said an expert.

India Vision Institute (IVI) CEO Vinod Daniel told IANS that although the cost of a pair of glasses is as low as Rs 250, the lack of access has made the problem of preventable blindness acute in India.

In most cases, a pair of glasses is all required for those suffering from blindness-related ailments, including refractive error. He attributes the situation to a range of factors, including lack of awareness and lack of human resources.

India has one-third of the people it requires in optometry.

“We need 130,00 people but have only 45,000. They include optometrists, ophthalmic assistants and people who do primary eye care,” he said.

The need in India is huge. “Once you turn 40-45, you need a pair of glasses. Five to seven per cent of children in India are myopic and they need glasses to study better. For older people, it’s a huge issue, especially in villages. The problem becomes more acute for those who work with hands,” he said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that India loses more than a lakh crore in productivity every year due to preventable blindness.

Research shows the cost of glasses is in fact very cheap but it is awareness and access to an optometric or an optical outlet that is an issue India needs to address.

Many colleges offer four-year standard optometry course. They also offer two-year diploma. In some institutions, there is a one-year course for machine technicians.

He feels there is not only the need for more colleges but also more mechanisms to deliver the courses. There is also a need for online courses and to increase the intake of students.

Optometry as a profession is still evolving in India while it is well developed in countries like the United States, Britain and Australia.

“Some countries are struggling. India is probably at half way,” he said.

He, however, believes that India is at a very exciting stage as in the last 10 years there has been a lot of interest with regard to optometry and how it could assist in eye care.

He is confident that optometry is a profession that would pay as people entering in the sphere will get jobs.

“Once upon a time everybody wanted to be a doctor or an engineer. Then the dental profession started and I hope optometry will be like that. There is a market and finding jobs will be easier.”

The second World Congress of Optometry, which concluded here on Wednesday, saw the world’s leading eye health experts discussing new ideas, sharing research and knowledge from various facets of optometry.

About 1,300 delegates from 45 countries attended the conference with the theme “accessible, quality vision and eye health”.

The WHO estimates 285 million to be visually impaired, of which 39 million are blind and 246 million have low vision.

Globally, uncorrected refractive errors are the main cause of moderate and severe visual impairment. Cataracts remain the leading cause of blindness in middle and low income countries.

The WHO aims to reduce by 2019 the prevalence of avoidable visual impairment by 25 per cent.

The World Council of Optometry (WCO) envisions accomplishing this by placing a strong and equitable eye health system within which optometry plays a valuable and essential role.

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