Optometry - A para wing perspective
About the author:
Vijay K Sarvepally has done his Bachelors in Optometry from Bausch Lomb school of Optometry, LV Prasad Eye Institute, affiliated to BITS – Pilani. Currently he is working as Head of Optometry department at Pushpagiri Eye Institute & Course Administrator cum teaching faculty at Pushpagiri School of Optometry and Ophthalmic sciences. Besides he also runs his own private Optometry practice. He is a member of International Association for Contact Lens Educators & Associate member of Association for Schools and Colleges of Optometry. Vice president for Netra Seva Samithi (an association for Private Optometrist and Ophthalmic assistants in Telangana). His interests are Contact lenses, Low vision and Pediatric Optometry. Currently, Vijay is pursing Post graduate students in Philosophy and ethics.
Although World Council of Optometry (WCO) defines Optometry as “A healthcare profession that is autonomous, educated, and regulated (licensed/registered), and Optometrists are the primary healthcare practitioners of the eye and visual system who provide comprehensive eye and vision care...” but this is not unanimous across the globe. Different countries have different practicing standards of optometry. This has further led to a great confusion amongst the general public in recognizing “The true Optometrist”, especially in developing countries like India. In India there are several “Para winged” courses in ophthalmic sciences, starting from 6 month certificate course to 6 years or above Post graduation in optometry and interestingly all claim to have the same nomenclature ‘Optometrist.’
In this scenario unless the profession of Optometry goes on par with other medical courses it would be difficult if not impossible for Optometry to live according to its true definition. So, now the question would be how? Or rather, Will it ever? The answer is an obvious “YES” with an asterisk (*) conditions apply. Thanks to the bodies like Optometry Council of India,Indian Optometric Federation, Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry & others who have come up so strong in the recent times with advocacy and Policy decisions which in fact are clearing the path for the achievement of common goal which is to see Optometry live up to its true definition in India. In this context, it would be interesting to learn the journey of Optometry in India from a Para wing perspective.
Origin of Optometry in India
Optometry dates back to 1958 when a two year Diploma course was available at the North India at Gandhi Eye Hospital, Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh and Sarojini Devi Eye Hospital, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh. These courses were introduced to bridge the gap between the patient and ophthalmologist, by introducing mid-level ophthalmic personnel. There was a huge demand for this course initially as most of the candidates got employed in Government Hospitals and other Primary Healthcare Centers . These candidates were initially called as Refractionists /Ophthalmic technicians or Assistants.
Then in 1976, National Programme for Control of Blindness (NPCB) was launched as a 100% centrally sponsored program, with a goal of reducing the blindness prevalence rate to 0.3% of population by 2020. One of the Preamble of NPCB is to develop the human resources for the Eye Care. In this context, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare envisaged providing assistance for setting up of Regional Institute of Ophthalmology (RIO) in different parts of the Country. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare also provided financial support to RIOs (regional Institute of Ophthalmology) towards Optometry/Ophthalmic Techniques Training for B.Sc, M.Optom./ M.Sc. in Optometry or equivalent degrees .
Current Scenario of Optometry in India
Currently, India has approximately 9,000 (four years trained) optometrist and 40,000 (two years trained) eye care personnel. However to provide comprehensive vision care to all the people of the country, 115,000 fully trained optometrist are required. Delhi declaration on optometry & Blindness prevention in India & Optometry Council of India (OCI), set the 4 year Optometry Course as the only registered qualification for new optometrists beyond 2020.The National Optometry steering committee suggests that the integration of highly educated four year trained Optometrist into primary health service offers a reasonable human resource approach. This invariably implies that there needs to be an increase in 4 year trained optometrists by nearly 12 times than the existing number, which is very huge.
NPCB duty chart of Ophthalmic Assistants
Test vision and prescribe glasses
Assist Medical Officer PHC in providing primary eye-care including treatment for trachoma, conjunctivitis and associated infections
Assist Mobile Unit in conducting eye-care camps
Survey the community for early detection of eye defects.
Organize community eye-care education activities
Train staff at peripheral level
Even to this day there is a huge demand for these 2 year diploma courses in India as it promises a secured future in a very short time (2 years) and also is highly rewarding both in terms of remuneration and reputations.
In recent times there has been an overwhelming response in terms of student admissions into diploma courses owing to the fact that diploma offering institutions outnumber the colleges offering the 4 year regular optometry course. Most of these young students have good academic score in the 12th grade and are highly talented, skillful with an exceptional intellectual ability who thoroughly qualifies for 4 year regular Optometry course. But due to scarcity of Institutes & colleges that offer lateral entry into the regular optometry course, these students are drifted away.
Therefore in view of the exponential need of 4 year trained Optometrist there needs to be stringent efforts made towards establishing more number of Optometry schools and Colleges in India through a statuary board. There has to be collaborative efforts both from the Government and private sectors towards capacity building and improvising the infrastructure facilities for optometry students. The corporate bodies also need to amalgamate in this mission. The selection process of students has to be unanimous across the country based on Merit and Common Entrance Test. Hence with these collective efforts in force, the day would not be too far to see the fulfillment of the common dream of many Optometrists in India.
1. The role of optometrist in India: An integral part of Eye Health, Indian J Ophthalmol;2012 sep-oct;60(5);401-405
3. NPCB guidelines for RIOs, Annexure IV sec 3.1 Training Programmes (c )
4. International Centre for Eye Care Education. Delhi Declaration on Optometry & Blindness prevention.2009
5. The role of optometrist in India: An integral part of Eye Health, Indian J Ophthalmol;2012 sep-oct;60(5);401-405
6. Minutes of 2nd meetings of the Committee of Experts held On 8th November, 2010 to formulate the revised duties of Ophthalmic Assistants under the National
Programme for Control of Blindness (NPCB)
7. My personal observation as the Principal of school of optometry and ophthalmic sciences.