New Optometry Programme to boost SA’s Eye-care Services
South Africans will soon have access to improved public eye-care services, thanks to a first-of-its-kind ocular therapeutics programme currently training a cohort of 135 Optometrists from across the country at UKZN in partnership with the State University of New York (SUNY).
Previously, only those trained as Ophthalmologists – specialists in medical and surgical eye problems – could prescribe ocular therapeutic drugs to patients in South Africa.
‘The profession has reached a significant milestone with the Health Professions Council of South Africa setting up a new register for Optometrists to be trained in ocular therapeutics,’ said UKZN Academic Leader for Optometry, Ms Vanessa Moodley.
It has, over the past decade, reviewed and expanded its scope of practice to include the diagnosis of ocular diseases and prescription of ocular therapeutic medicines for anterior segment diseases to better serve the public.
‘The significant move to introduce optometry services into the public sector will require Optometrists to work in remote areas and more often than not without the backing of Ophthalmic Medical Officers or Ophthalmology services,’ Moodley said.
Before completing the programme, the trainees will spend 600 hours under the clinical supervision of an Ophthalmologist or Medical Officer within state hospitals around the country.
Studies indicate that approximately 49 million people in the world are blind, and in South Africa, causes of blindness and visual impairment include cataracts (66 percent), glaucoma (14 percent), refractive error (10 percent) and 10 percent due to other conditions, including trachoma.
‘Enhancing patient care and reducing avoidable blindness means a lot to us at UKZN,’ said Moodley.
The expanded scope for optometrists to train in the SUNY-UKZN programme is envisaged to bridge the gap between patient needs and the often limited access they have to specialist services; especially communities situated in rural areas of the country.
‘It’s something I’ve been waiting for for a very long time,’ said Upington Optometrist, Mr Russell Nugent, who travelled from the Northern Cape to attend the programme’s first block lectures at the International Convention Centre in Durban.
Nugent said: ‘It’s excellent that such a programme is finally being offered. The rural areas in which we work have very limited access to specialist care. The programme is very relevant to what I need to know as an Optometrist.’
With a keen interest is in public health services and policy, UKZN Optometry Clinical Resident, Mr Tate Madlala, said it was critical to ensure that even the poorest of the poor had access to eye care facilities.
The first lectures were delivered by esteemed Professors, Diane Adamczyk and David Krumholtz from SUNY’s College of Optometry at the International Convention Centre in Durban.
Also present was SUNY’s Vice President for Student Affairs and International Programs, Dr Jeffrey Philpott and Senior Director of Admissions and Marketing, Dr Guilherme Albieri who said the Optometrists were in very good hands studying at UKZN in collaboration with SUNY – ‘one of the best Optometry colleges in the world’.
Philpott said the ocular therapeutics programme was aligned with SUNY’s mission to help international countries such as South Africa to achieve their true potential in Optometry teaching and learning.
Philpott highlighted that if Optometrists were enabled to deliver 70 percent of primary eye care services to the community, then this would free Ophthalmologists to excel as surgical professionals and help reduce the cataract backlog that continues to plague the country.
Albieri said it was important to note that the patients were the ultimate beneficiaries of such collaborations. ‘UKZN already has a great optometry programme and leadership,’ he said.
The international visitors are also facilitating the mentorship programme to develop five academics, from universities of Free State, Johannesburg, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal, to lecture in the future ocular therapeutics programmes.
UKZN’s Optometry discipline continues to develop initiatives towards being more socially accountable to the communities its graduates will serve.
The Department of Health has been supportive of the discipline’s endeavour to improve student access to public sector hospitals in the province for training.