Delivering eye health care in developed as well as developing countries is crucial to the prevention of blindness. Worldwide, it is estimated that there are 45 million individuals who are blind, 180 million who are visually impaired and that over 90% of these individuals live in developing countries. Childhood visual disorders such as strabismus, amblyopia and significant refractive errors are major causes of visual impairment.
The orthoptists’ advanced knowledge and skills in pediatric vision assessment, diagnosis and management of strabismus and amblyopia, and screening techniques are invaluable in serving this population of patients. It is the orthoptist who has greater knowledge than the general physician to provide care for patients with amblyopia and strabismus. Orthoptists are valuable in triaging patients for detecting pathology and referring patients for proper care. Finally, many orthoptists are proficient in refractions, visual fields and providing low vision services.
Another valuable role filled by the orthoptist is in education. At the community level, they can teach basic detection of strabismus and amblyopia to low level community health care workers. By training them to recognize specific conditions as well as the limits of available treatment, we help them to initiate early treatment in their children.
The next level of education is in teaching local allied health and ophthalmology personnel. They need to learn about normal visual development and signs of poor visual development in infants, assessment of vision and fixation, diagnosis and treatment of amblyopia and strabismus, as well as various orthoptic examination techniques. Teaching through lectures, handouts and clinical practice is essential in educating the local staff and arming them in the fight against childhood blindness.
Set up Orthopic or Vision Screening Programs
Finally, an orthoptist can help set up orthoptic programs or coordinate vision screening programs. Developing countries need well-trained people who can continue the work of medical missionaries. Thus, we need to promote the concept of orthoptics and improve the quality of education to combat childhood visual loss.
Unfortunately, a major problem in providing proper care is the lack of trained and experienced personnel. With a current world population of over 6.5 billion, there are only 150,000 ophthalmologists and less than 16,000 orthoptists worldwide. The International Orthoptic Association has taken action to expand the reach of orthoptics and help build orthoptics around the world by participating in ophthalmology congresses in countries outside of the IOA.At these congresses, the IOA presents symposia to help spread information about the role of orthoptists. In 2005-2006, the IOA responded to invitations to present at the World Ophthalmology Congress in Brazil and at the annual Chinese Ophthalmology Meeting in China. In addition, the IOA has established the Volunteer Program, the Exchange Program and the Partner Country Program.
The Volunteer Program
The Volunteer Program provides and opportunity to help build the orthoptic profession. Orthoptist volunteers travel to non-IOA countries to educate and train local health care workers and promote orthoptics. The IOA volunteer program has offered assistance in several countries, including Ecuador, Thailand, Romania, India, Hong Kong, Egypt, Mexico, Slovenia and Greece.
Many orthoptists have already participated in the IOA Volunteer Program visiting coutries like Burundi, Honduras, Pakistan, Dominican Republic, India, Peru etc. and have written exciting reports about their experiences. Please have a look and enjoy reading.