From Fred Ezeh, Abuja
The umbrella body of eye doctors in Nigeria, the Nigerian Optometric Association (NOA) has raised the alarm that Nigeria may soon face manpower crisis in the Optometry arm of medical services because of increasing interest of foreign countries in the quality of Nigerian optometrists.
It said the massive brain drain of eye care professionals and other health care professionals from Nigeria to other countries has further worsened the burden of blindness statistics in the country, hence the need for urgent attention from all stakeholders to avoid blindness pandemic.
In addition to that, NOA said its members in health care facilities in Nigeria are working under unfriendly environments and conditions, hence many upcoming ones are increasingly loosing interest in local practice and prefer opportunities abroad.
NOA National President, Dr. Obinna Awiaka, who spoke at the opening ceremony of the 45th Conference of NOA with the theme “leveraging on partnerships to transform optometry and eye care in West Africa” appealed to the Federal Government and other stakeholders to initiate programmes and policies that would herald expanded local opportunities and improved working conditions to encourage Optometrists to stay back and offer services to Nigerians.
He confirmed that many people are coming down with different eye problems including blindness which 80 per cent of the causes are avoidable. “Many people don’t do periodic eye examinations nor take preventive measures early, and in some cases, they choose to patronize quacks who, often times, worsened their problems, thereby, causing them to spend more money than they ought to.”
He disclosed that available global statistics revealed that the number of people with vision loss is expected to rise from the current figure of 1.1 billion to 1.7 billion by 2050, and over 90 per cent of the figure is found in the low and middle income countries of which Nigeria is part of.
He added that over 1.2 million people aged 40 years and above are blind and a further 2.7 million adults 40 years and above have different moderate visual impairment in Nigeria.
He disclosed that globally, vision loss costs over $411 billion, thus posing one of the greatest economic challenges one can imagine, insisting that the statistics are scary and re-emphasized the huge tasks and responsibility left for Optometrists, other eyecare professionals, action agencies and all stakeholders.
He, however, appreciated the effort of Federal Ministry of Health for their efforts in strengthening Nigeria’s health system, especially in the area of eye care. “The recently launched National Eye Health Policy document and National Eye Health Committee to oversee equitable access to quality eye care services is commendable.
“If the Policy is well implemented, it would go a long way in strengthening the Nigeria’s health system towards the attainment of the Universal Eye Health which is an integral component of the Universal Health (UHC) Coverage.
“We are optimistic that Optometrists would be fully integrated in the course of implementation of the policy especially at the primary health care level. This would go a long way in standardizing eye care services to the teaming population and at the same time reduce brain drain to the barest minimum.
“Howbeit, there’s need for more employment opportunities for Optometrists to enable them participate in giving quality and affordable services to Nigerians. Unarguably, the health care sector as regards the current distribution of Optometrists in Nigeria falls far below the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended proportion.”
The 45th NOA National Conference provided opportunities for experts and other stakeholders to discuss issues concerning the profession, exchange ideas, knowledge and skills, on how best to tackle challenges and promote the profession for the betterment of Nigerians.
Also, there was scientific sessions on research findings, innovations and advances in eye care by Optometrists and other major players in the eye care industry.
In addition to that, there was discussions on eye care delivery issues at all levels of health care, advocacy campaigns on eye health to target audiences as well as discussions on organized optometry practice and training, locally, regionally and globally.
Similarly, there were exhibitions showcasing products and services by different exhibitors from reputable industries and companies across the globe, as well as opportunities for socio-cultural understanding of cities and cultures in Nigeria, as well as business and social interactions among others.