The first four year Optometry Degree programme has just been launched in Vietnam by a collaboration between Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine, Ho Chi Min City Eye Hospital and the Brien Holden Vision Institute, with support from the Australian Government’s Avoidable Blindness Initiative Program.
It was an absolute delight to meet Vietnam’s first 20 optometry students. These young people, who will be joining Vietnam’s current optometrists (only three), have an immense opportunity to make an impact on the provision of vision care in their country.
An estimated 21 million people in Vietnam have blindness or impaired vision due to uncorrected refractive error; three million of whom are children. It is the leading cause of vision impairment in the country and the main cause of childhood blindness.
It is estimated that these young people will each provide vision care for 80,000 Vietnamese people during their professional lifetimes; the 20 students caring for the vision of over 1.5 million people. Vietnam will need at least 5,000 more optometrists from at least five Departments of Optometry. The next optometry program is being planned by Hanoi Medical University for opening in 2015.
Historically, ophthalmologists aided by eye care nurses, ophthalmic technicians and refractionists, 600 of whom were trained by the Institute, have worked to try to address the refractive error needs of the country. However, these dedicated professionals cannot respond to the increasingly high numbers of people requiring services for refractive error and primary eye care.
The optometry course is the culmination of a ten year plan to introduce optometry to the country, with the primary goal of alleviating the burden of uncorrected refractive error in Vietnam in line with the Vietnamese National Eye Health Plan. One of the great successes of the project has been the spirit of the collaboration, all of the different organisations and teams coming together with one common goal – eliminating avoidable blindness through better vision care.
As we look to the future joint collective quest for excellence in vision care for all Vietnamese people, I look forward to the graduation ceremonies of these first pioneers of Vietnamese optometry and their many successors.