Nigeria has only 4, 000 registered optometrists – Echendu

health care
health care

Without a healthy vision, our ability to walk, work, drive, and recognise faces or objects can be drastically affected, because we all depend on our vision to see.
To safeguard our vision, we need to see the right eye care professional.
In this interview with AJUMA EDWINA OGIRI, an optometrist, the President of the Nigerian Optometric Association (NOA), Dr.
Damian Echendu, sheds more light on the three types of eye care providers, the plight of optometrists in Nigeria, brain drain among others.
Excerpts

Optometrists, opticians and ophthalmologists An optician is someone who fabricates or fixes eye glass lenses into a frame.
The optician prescribes lenses and fixes them into a frame.
An optometrist is the primary eye care provider who specialises in eye care, and this scope of practice involves examination, diagnosis, treatment and management of eye abnormalities and eye diseases.
Optometrist can also manage those that have very poor vision.
An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor that specialises in eye surgery and also treats all eye diseases as well.
If an optician examines a patient it is quackery, because they are not supposed to examine or treat eye diseases.
Self medication It is wrong for a pharmacist to prescribe eye drops or medicines for anyone, because it is not within his power to do that.
Some members of the public at times get desperate and find it difficult to go to the hospital, because they will be charged for consultation and others, so they prefer to go to a pharmacy where they won’t be charged for all that.
So, whatever they give them, they will take and do trial and error.
If it doesn’t work or becomes worse, that is when they go to the hospital.
But some of them the trial and error works for them, so they don’t go to the hospital.
Ordinarily, they are supposed to go to the hospital for treatment, but they prefer to go to the pharmacy in order to save cost.
It is wrong practice to buy drugs over the counter without a doctor’s prescription or advice.
Also, the use of urine, sugar or salt water as well as kerosene for eye treatment is an unhealthy practice and should be discouraged.
This is why we encourage government to employ more optometrists so that it will be cheaper for people to have access to eye care.
It is cheaper to have access to eye care in government, than in private.
Increase need for medicated glasses The reason behind the rampant use of glasses these days has to do with genetics, ‘near tasks’ and constant reading, as against farming which was prevalent so many years back.
A lot of people do near tasks these days and there are a lot of readings on phones and the computers.
All of these needs to be done with the eye and what is called focusing mechanism, as the eye has to focus in order to see properly.
When people attain the ages of 30 to 40, their ability to focus on objects properly decreases; this is just like the skin and other parts of the body.
Challenges, brain-drain When optometrists graduate, they do not find places of internship and also they don’t find places of employment.
Government has not been engaging them.
There should be an enabling environment because internship is very important.
It is expected that when they finish their internship and youth corps service, they should get a place to work, but unfortunately it is very difficult for them to get employment.
Some that are lucky go into private practice, but many of them leave this country to Saudi Arabia.
Many of our members are working in Saudi Arabia because they are accepted there.
Some are also in the UK and USA, but the majority of them are in Saudi Arabia.
It is really bad that a country that is producing such level of personnel will allow them to leave the country and go and provide their services to other countries.
We have only 4,000 registered optometrists in the country at the moment, and more than 80 per cent of us are into private practice.
In a situation whereby 80 per cent of our members are in private practice, and with our economy which is very poor, it will be difficult for people to go and check their eyes.
If government post an optometrist to rural community, and an enabling environment is provided, I don’t think he or she will reject such offer, because the service we offer is humanitarian service; in as much as we are paid.
Improving eye care To improve eye care in Nigeria, government needs to provide enough equipment and facilities for eye care services, and also employ qualified personnel; both optometrists and ophthalmologists into the system.
Currently, if you go to the local governments it is difficult to find an optometrist there.
70 per cent of the population lives in rural communities, and it is very difficult for them to have access to eye care.
So, if government can employ at least one optometrist in every local government, it will help to reduce vision impairment and loss of sight.
Also, our association is a subscriber to major global efforts aimed at eradicating avoidable blindness as a public health concern.
To mark our 50th anniversary celebration, we will carry out public-targeted activities such as the My Sight My Right child eye health initiative, which extends quality eye care services to children between the ages of five and 14 across the country.
We are also unveiling a publication on optometry in Nigeria among others.
Recently, we partnered with the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), to conduct a nationwide drivers’ vision survey, for research information that could generate a policy document on driving and vision in the country


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