The Brien Holden Vision Institute, Optometry Giving Sight, VOSH International and partners celebrated the momentous occasion of opening the first optometry school in Haiti. The initial 19 students are the pioneers of their profession for Haiti. They have been recruited by I’Université d’État d’Haïti to begin their five year Optometry and Vision Science degree.
Once qualified, these first generation optometrists will use their skills to address the unmet eye care need across the nation. There are currently only three optometrists and 56 ophthalmologists to serve Haiti’s population of 10 million people.
Haiti has the highest levels of blindness and moderate or severe vision impairment among people aged 50 and over, in the entire Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region, with the age-standardised prevalence estimated at 4.8% and 21.9% respectively. This is three times greater than some other countries in the region.
The Haiti Optometry Program is a collaboration between I’Université d’État d’Haïti, Brien Holden Vision Institute, Optometry Giving Sight, Charity Vision, VOSH International and l’Université de Montréal.
Supported by this program the development of locally trained optometrists will make an exceptional contribution to the vision care needs of Haiti. The need for glasses (uncorrected refractive error) is the leading cause of vision impairment in the LAC region. Current figures show more than 14 million people in the LAC region are vision impaired.2
The graduating optometrists will relieve ophthalmologists from the management of numerous eye conditions, allowing them to focus on their areas of specialty – medical and surgical treatment. The introduction of optometrists will in time increase the efficiency of eye care services in Haiti and improve the health system’s cost-effectiveness.
“We are very pleased that such a milestone has been achieved for Haiti,” said Dr Jean-Claude Cadet, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy, I’Université d’État d’Haïti. “This is an incredible moment for the future of eye care in Haiti. I look forward to the day the first group of optometrists graduate, and we see the benefits in our communities, especially with the reduction of avoidable blindness due to uncorrected refractive error,” he continued.
Dr Scott Mundle, President, World Council of Optometry expressed his support for the emerging school of optometry. “This is a great development for both Haiti and for the global development of optometry,” he said.
“It is an honour and a privilege to be here to witness the official opening of Haiti’s first optometry school,” said Dr Luigi Bilotto, Director of Global Education, Brien Holden Vision Institute. “This day is a landmark and celebratory occasion in the development of eye care services for the people of Haiti, while also giving a glimpse into the future personnel that will contribute to the country’s long term comprehensive vision care framework.”
“I would like to extend our thanks to the project partners and the generous supporters of this initiative, Optometry Giving Sight, Vision Source, Essilor Canada, Digicel and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade without whose generous support this would not have been possible,” said Dr Bilotto.