Amid the rising number of people suffering from avoidable blindness, Uganda has opened its first optometry centre at Makerere University hospital.
The facility will provide both practical training to students pursuing a Bachelor of Optometry and offer specialized eye care service to the community.
According to the Ministry of Health, Uganda has a scarcity of trained eye care professionals to provide accessible care and this directly contributes too many cases of avoidable blindness in the country.
Dr. Joyce Moriku, the State Minister for Primary Health Care noted that Uganda has only four registered optometrists out of the nine in the country.
“Only three of the registered optometrists are in Uganda and they can’t provide eye care services to over 34 million Ugandans,” Dr. Moriku said.
She made this revelation at the launch of the Academic Vision Centre at Makerere University Hospital.
There are over 700m people suffering from visual impairment worldwide and this is 20% of the global population.
It is estimated that over 1.5 million people in Uganda suffer from avoidable visual impairment, a problem attributed to lack of accessible eye care services.
Dr. Naomi Nsubuga, sub regional program manager of Brien Holden Vision Institute said the standard ratio of optometrists to patients is 1:50,000. However, the ratio in Uganda stands at 1:250,000.
The facility will increase capacity of optometrists to treat people.
Currently, there are only 11 students in the country enrolled for the four year bachelor’s degree in optometry at Makerere University. The program which commenced in 2014 now has 11 students and hopes to admit 20 students this August.
What is Optometry?
This is a health discipline where people are trained to diagnose vision impairment and prepare treatment through assessing the vision.
Optometrists can also treat other eye-related diseases.
The US$500,000(sh1.6bn) facility has state of the art equipment according to Prof. Ian Jacobs, the Vice Chancellor of University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia.
Prof. Charles Ibingira the principal Makerere University College of Health Sciences said about $300,000 of the $500,000 project was used to establish a training lab at Mulago Hospital and the US$150,000 was used to equip and establish the optometry centre at Makerere University hospital.
The facility will accommodate a minimum of 40 patients per day.
The law on optometry
Uganda lacks a law that regulates the practice of doctors offering eye care services.
While addressing guests at the launch, Wolfgang Gindorfer, the Program Director of Light for the World implored the Ministry of Health to push for the bill regulating all eye care specialists.
“My request is to see that optometry is regulated within public service, it is streamlined and organized because this is a very important service,” he said.
Gindorfer also asked the Minister of Public Service to ensure that the graduate students are integrated into the public service.
In collaboration with the State Minister for Public Service, Dr Muroki pledged to take on the graduates, provide staffing needs for the facility and ensure the bill which is in the offing is passed.
“We will integrate these cadres into the system so that the service reaches people at the grassroots,” she said.
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.