Nigeria currently has about 3,000 optometrists.
The President-elect of the World Council of Optometry, WCO, Uduak Udom, has warned Nigerian authorities to take serious steps to address the poor level of eye care in the country.
Mrs. Udom was the first female president of the African Council of Optometry, AFCO, as well as first female president of the Nigerian Association of Optometrists.
In an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Mrs. Udom said Nigeria was far from meeting the international benchmark for optometry practice, adding that many Nigerians were going blind without knowing it.
Mrs. Udom insisted that public healthcare policymakers in Nigeria do not understand the import of optometry to the nation’s healthcare delivery system. She said this was dangerous to the attainment of good health for the people.
She recalled an incident when she went to the Nigerian Senate to sensitise them on the need for the country to start what she described as “Schools Eye-Care Programme” all over the country.
Mrs. Udom said she embarked on the sensitisation meeting while serving as President of the Nigerian Council.
After booking an appointment with the relevant Senate committee, she said only four members turned up for the meeting. She lamented that the apparent nonchalant attitude of the lawmakers disheartened her and her colleagues.
Mrs. Udom said many children who performed poorly in schools have challenges with their sight. She urged that Nigeria adopt a proactive eye treatment system for the benefit of its citizens.
“Many children are not doing well in school because they have some eye problems which parents don’t know. I have been with the wife of a governor in this country whose children had eye problems and she didn’t know. It was the teacher who sent a note telling her it appeared the children were not seeing properly. She took the children to an optometrist and it was discovered that they were shortsighted and glasses were recommended.
“The children picked up immediately and got tops of their classes. It is not a matter of saying my parents are educated and so they will know. There is need for us to start a school eye care programme where teachers would be trained to identify children with eye problems and refer them for treatment early enough,” she said.
With a population of over 160 million people, Mrs. Udom said Nigeria currently has about 3,000 registered optometrists, most of who are in private practice.
Although the number of practitioners in the country meets the international benchmark of one optometrist to 250,000 persons, she, however, noted that most of them operate in the cities.
She also noted that some states in the country have few practitioners, while others have more, thereby affecting their distribution among the population.
The World Health Organisation, WHO, and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, IAPB, are responsible for setting benchmark for the practice globally.
“The ratio is one optometrist to 250,000 persons. Right now, we have about 3,000 registered practitioners and many of them are not absorbed into the public health system. Majority of optometrists are involved in private practice and are not available to people in rural communities, where majority of Nigerians reside. Government has not created opportunities for optometrists to join the public health sector,” she said.
Mrs. Udom also identified glaucoma as a major eye condition affecting people of African descent, saying that many Nigerians were living with the condition without knowing.
According to her, people hardly know they are suffering from glaucoma because they rarely feel pain or discomfort even when their eyes were being destroyed gradually.
She, therefore, advised Nigerians to always go for check-up with qualified optometrists in order to ascertain the status of their eyes and access proper treatment.
Optometry is the art and science of vision care and involves among other things, comprehensive eye examination, treatment of minor ocular diseases, and correction of errors of refraction using glasses and contact lenses.
It also includes management of vision and muscular imbalances between the two eyes and general eye care.
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