Naomi Nsubuga Makerere University College of Health Sciences
As we mark World Optometry Day, we celebrate optometry in Uganda which has evolved in the last few years from a being an unregulated profession focussed on providing refraction services in the private sector to a recently regulated profession being integrated into the health system, whose services are highly sought after in both the public and private sectors.
According to four Rapid Assessments of Avoidable Blindness (RAAB) surveys conducted in Uganda, the prevalence of blindness is 0.4% and moderate and severely impaired (MSVI) is 7%. The leading causes are cataracts and refractive errors.
The 4th National Eye Health Plan (2016 to 2020) included plans to train and integrate optometrists in the health system in order to achieve Ministry of Health (MOH) targets to decrease the prevalence of uncorrected refractive errors in adults and strengthen child eye health and low vision services in the country. The MOH plans to place optometrists at the national and regional referral hospital levels in the public sector, since they can also play a key role in early identification and co-management of conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and AMD. A Scheme of Service for all eye health cadres has been developed together with the professional associations and it includes the creation of posts for optometrists as members of the eye health team in the public sector.
The demand for optometrists has grown significantly in the public and private sectors in the country since the profession in Uganda was gazetted in 2018, a year before the first cohort of locally trained optometrists graduated from Makerere University in January 2019. Optometry graduates are now providing comprehensive eye care services in a variety of settings across the country. The first optometrist posted in the public sector is based at the Academic Vision Centre at Makerere University Hospital. This Vision Centre provides optometry services to university students, staff, faculty, and the community. Optometrists and optometry students are also providing services to rural communities through outreaches, school screening and rehabilitation programmes.
In the next 5 years, there will be 50 optometrists in Uganda integrated within the health system to provide people centred eye care services.
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