Orlando, United States, 7 July 2017: Luigi Bilotto has been announced as the 2017 recipient of the American Academy of Optometry-Essilor Award for Outstanding International Contributions to Optometry. As Director of Education at Brien Holden Vision Institute, Luigi has a vision to address uncorrected refractive error – the major cause of blindness and vision impairment – by taking optometry education to all corners of the world where it is needed. He is having a major impact in Africa – establishing and supporting numerous optometry schools and delivering eye health programs through his work as an educator, strategist and advocate with Brien Holden Vision Institute.
Luigi’s strategy and focus is clear – address the shortage of qualified eye health workers, a key factor that underlies the paucity in refractive and eye health services in the developing context through optometry development, educational programs and access to resources. He is looking well beyond current needs, aiming for sustainable integrated systems that will cater to the growing eye care needs of the future.
Since 2008, under Luigi’s direction, the Brien Holden Vision Institute and its partners have supported the implementation of ten optometry schools, from the ground up, in Malawi, Mozambique, Eritrea, Cameroon, Uganda, Kenya, and two Optometric Technician programs in Malawi and Eritrea. Add in to that list two optometry schools in Vietnam, in the Western Pacific region. Collectively the new schools currently have 730 students enrolled and studying, and so far have produced over 466 new graduates, a number which is conservatively projected to increase by at least 5 times by 2020, and more thereafter when local systems are consolidated. Through its supportive programs, most of which emerge from collaborative initiatives, more than 60 other emergent schools around the world have been supported.
Importantly, he has achieved these results through meticulous consultation and collaboration with relevant local stakeholders – ministries of health and/or education and public academic institutions – and in alignment with existing local strategic plans for eye health. He has also provided strategic guidance and leadership in setting up optometry schools and programs. He has been responsible for curriculum development and related academic processes such as recruitment of educators, course structure and delivery, provision of educational resources and equipment, faculty development and clinical setups.
One of Luigi’s visionary initiatives is the development of a multi-lingual (English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese and Chinese) online educational platform (https://academy.brienholdenvision.org/). It delivers a breadth of eye health courses, tools and materials, many free, in an effort to maximise the use of available resources, increase reach, and unite the international eye health community in a central hub aimed at the development of refractive services and eye health. The courses and resources cover areas in clinical, research, business, soft skills and importantly pedagogical aspects.
Luigi’s human resource development initiatives cater to optometric services broadly and support the education of many other cadres involved in eye health – ophthalmologists, medical doctors, nurses, health officers, teachers, leaders and managers. While systemic optometry development is looking to the long-term, the engagement with other cadres also helps to address the current need for refractive services through training for upskilling and maximizing capabilities of existing personnel.