Dr Cecil Nwafor, former National Secretary, Nigerian Optometric Association (NOA) is the newly elected President of African Council of Optometry AFCO. Just back from a world optometry meeting in Malaysia, the CEO of International Centre for Vision and Eyehealth, speak on the eyecare industry in Nigeria and other related issues. Excerpts:
Assessment of Nigeria's policy on eyecare
Nigeria has no problem with its laws and policies, the only area of concern is implementation. As a signatory to many international declarations on health matters, she is a signatory to United Nations, African Union and other agencies particularly the biggest one which is the World Health Organisation (WHO)'s Vision 2020-The Right To Sight and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness which is very much on the ground in Nigeria and all stakeholders are working towards the achievement of the goals and objectives.
How the Nigerian Optometric Association has fared
The NOA is a country member of African Council of Optometry where I am President.Over the years, NOA has been very active and relevant in the country's health sector while the members who are highly committed to the practice have provided vision care to millions of Nigerians.
Until 1989, the profession did not have official recognition, which took concerted efforts to secure legislation. Employing optometrists in to public health positions in its various health institutions has improved.
Personal contributions towards development of optometry in Nigeria
Before becoming President AFCO, I served in different capacities locally. Actually it has been a journey guided by professional commitment and focus. As a major contribution to the development of optometry in Nigeria. Consistently over 11 years, we have published Optometry News, a newsletter on Optometry.
Tasks ahead for optometrists in Nigeria
The challenges before us are to make a success of World Health Organisation's Vision 2020, the Right To Sight for the Prevention Of Blindness. Refractive errors is a common condition in the population, which may be short or far sightedness while some find it difficult to read easily at the age of 40. Another complex one is astigmatism which is also common among the populace.
Then there are problems with coordinating the two eyes and various eye diseases. These are the concerns of my profession.
Suggestions on the way forward
One of our recommendations is that the federal government should invest in the eyecare industry so that services can be extended and affordable.
Since optometrists are primary and first contact eyecare service providers, they should be employed en masse to work in rural communities and health centres located in remote areas of the country so that the rate of blindness will be reduced to the barest.
For instance, if the 774 local governments should employ an optometrist each, it is going to help tremendously as a measure in place. Referral cases are easily identified thereby lessening the burden and improving the efficiency of state general hospitals. There is also the advantage of cost saving for patients who don't need to go long distances before getting attention. There is also the need to employ adequate numbers of optometrists in the various secondary and tertiary institutions.
What optometry is all about
Optometry is not an urban profession. It is a neccessary service. Let us give it to the governors because they are now employing optometrists for their various health institutions; we, however, implore them to do more by increasing the quota.
I give kudos to the Lagos State government for its effort to ensure good vision for drivers in the state and for involving optometrists in the project.
What the International Centre for Vision and Eyehealth represents
It is primarily concerned with the WHO's Vision2020 programme, to reduce refractive errors and checkmate blindness. Our other focus is to correct and manage squint; an eye condition known as Strabismus - called 'half past four eyes' in common parlance). Squint may not be the leading cause of visual disability or blindness but our NGO is poised to take care of people living with the condition, offering them solution.