Kampala, Uganda, 4 August 2016: From workforce development to sustainable delivery of services, eye health is gaining ground in Uganda. Today marks the launch of a community access vision centre at the Makerere University Hospital in Kampala. This initiative ensures greater access to affordable eye care for the local population as a long term solution to the underserved level of eye health need.
Uganda has a scarcity of trained eye care professionals available to provide accessible care and this directly contributes to disadvantaged lives, affecting a loss of potential to the overall economy. This is particularly evident in optometry services which impact on an adult’s capacity to earn and a child’s capacity to learn.
Optometry has the capacity to change the eye care landscape of Uganda. This profession is very young in Uganda, emerging over the last three years since the opening of the optometry program at Makerere University in 2013, funded by DFAT and Optometry Giving Sight. There are currently optometry students enrolled in year one and two of the optometry program at Makerere University. The first graduates will emerge in 2018.
This ground-breaking development began nearly 10 years ago when discussions first began between Brien Holden Vision Institute, the Commissioner of Clinical Services at the Ministry of Health, the Department of Ophthalmology at Makerere University, Light for the World and the Optometrists Association of Uganda.
The timely opening of the Academic Vision Centre at Makerere University Hospital will act both as a practical training facility for the optometry students and as a much-needed eye care service to the community. This intervention of the optometry program working at a ground level cohesively with the vision centre is a model of long term parity towards sustainable change for eye health and also provides a viable resource for income generation.
In addition to walk-in patients, the Academic Vision Centre has the capacity to provide community outreach projects to remote locations, and also providing health promotion materials to schools, clinics, hospitals and other high volume areas to educate the public on the importance of eye health and regular eye examinations. This potential for broad reaching public advocacy work over time will generate further service uptake through the door of the vision centre effectively completing the service provision cycle.
An additional occurrence today aims to ensure longevity to the collaborative approach gaining ground in eye health in Kampala. A Memorandum of Understanding will be signed between Makerere University, the Institute and a new partner, University of New South Wales, Australia, binding commitment for all long term. A recent situational analysis highlighted a need to engage an academic partner to increase the capacity and support the delivery of the optometric curriculum.
The new partnership shares common goals including enhancement of syllabus and course content, clinical training, structural and infrastructural support, faculty relief and development, and research and postgraduate scholarships. This collaboration promises to collectively address the identified areas of eye health need and develop the workforce development capacity in optometry in Eastern Africa - a step towards solving the grand challenge of avoidable blindness.
Professor Kovin Naidoo, CEO, Brien Holden Vision Institute, spoke about the Institute’s long-term strategy of workforce development and the impact being achieved through growth in services and eye care professionals in Uganda.
“There is agreement in the development community that capacity building is the engine of human development. We believe people are best empowered to realise their full potential when the strategies of development are sustainable – home-grown, long-term, generated and managed collectively by those who stand to benefit,” said Professor Naidoo.
“Our work in Uganda with our partners contains all these elements and we are proud to be impacting change in this way. Eye care service availability to date in Uganda has been limited largely to surgical and emergency management of eye diseases.
We hope that the new sustainable model we are developing by ensuring that optometry is an integral part of eye care on a national level, and by expanding the range of services and strengthening the referral pathways, Uganda will be able to overcome some of the current eye health barriers,” he said.
A practical hands-on component of the optometry program is crucial to the comprehensive training of the enrolled students and an innovative way to facilitate this approach is through the opening of a local vision centre.
This initiative has the further benefit of increasing delivery of eye care services at the community level.
Uncorrected refractive error (the need for glasses) and low vision (non-restorable sight) are mentioned in the National Plan for Eye Care in Uganda as a major cause of ocular morbidity. This weighty fact motivated the Ministry of Health to incorporate a cross-cutting intervention on uncorrected refractive error into their national comprehensive eye care program.
Makerere University together with Brien Holden Vision Institute have identified optometry training as one of their main areas of concern. Optometry will provide the trained workforce to build an integrated, comprehensive approach to eye health with the specific aim of meeting the large and unmet eye care needs of the country.