A group of UNSW Sydney academics have formed a partnership with Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, to train optometrists and transform access to eye care services for thousands of people affected by poor vision.
The team, led by Associate Professor Isabelle Jalbert and Dr Kathleen Watt from the School of Optometry and Vision Science, will oversee the training of local optometrists, the creation of specialist eye health programs and curriculum development for the first optometry degree ratified in Uganda.
“There are less than 10 practising optometrists in Uganda to service about 40 million people, all of who received their training overseas,” says Dr Jalbert. “It’s a really young profession and there is a huge need to train and build up the workforce to provide primary eye care.”
The team from UNSW Science, supported by UNSW’s Institute for Global Development, will spend the next year visiting Makerere University to teach students and support the faculty, particularly in specialised fields of advanced contact lenses training, binocular vision, paediatric optometry, and ocular diseases.
“Our team will travel to Uganda four times this year to teach through practical workshops and provide online training material that students can access outside of the visits. The optometry faculty at Makerere University is in the process of being built up and is very stretched in covering all the teaching required,” says Dr Jalbert.
The School of Optometry at Makerere University is a collaboration between UNSW, the Brien Holden Vision Institute, Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Optometry Giving Sight, Light for the World, and the Optometrist Association of Uganda. The first group of Ugandan-trained optometrists graduated from Makerere University in January.
Uganda is one of the African countries supporting optometry as a public health priority to address the growing need of uncorrected sight. Training optometrists locally in Uganda using internationally developed teaching materials and advanced equipment will help ensure the population receives basic services including prescription eye glasses, eye exams, contact lenses and prevention and detection of eye disease.
Dr Anguyo Dralega, Head of the Optometry School, Makerere University, says: “Young optometrists are the building blocks for a sustainable eye care service in Uganda. They will relieve the country’s 45 ophthalmologists from the management of eye conditions, allowing them to concentrate on other areas of specialties. The optometrists will help improve the quality of life for many Ugandans with uncorrected vision impairment by providing refraction services and appropriate glasses. The benefit of this simple measure cannot be underestimated by a life diminished through poor vision.”
Dr Jalbert says the growth of the school and ongoing work of Makerere University is helping to establish Uganda as a leader for developing a sustainable East African optometry program.
“The current ophthalmologists working in Ugandan hospitals are unable to meet demand. By training local optometrists, we are helping to supply primary eye care services which is key for triaging patients and providing vision screening and services across regions.”