With vision impairment increasing in Asia, optometrists at the 3rd Asia Optometric Congress have stressed on the importance of better eye care and the implementation of a stronger eye healthcare system.
Themed ‘A New Vision’, the two-day congress brought together optometrists from academia, hospitals and private practice in Asia to share their knowledge, expertise and experience to ensure quality eye care and services and to improve the optometry profession in the region.
The opening ceremony of the 3rd AOC was officiated by the Guest of Honour, Dr. Mohamed Iqbal bin Hamzah, Director of Medical Practise, Medical Practise Division, Ministry of Health Malaysia.
At the opening ceremony, Datuk Dr Murphy Chan, President of AOC 2022 said greater awareness is needed among the public on the importance of regular eye health screening by optometrists to prevent vision impairment.
According to Datuk Dr Chan, survey findings have shown that 67% of the Malaysian population has never gone for an eye screening for more than a year. Thus, there is an urgent need to mobilise optometrists for community eye health services to lessen the burden of hospitals.
“There are close to 600 ophthalmologists in Malaysia with 75% of the public visiting the hospital for in-patient eye treatment and 90% for outpatient eye treatment. Mobilising 2700 optometrists for community eye health services will help to ease the burden on hospitals by reducing the influx of patients checking in for all sorts of eye disorders, some of which could be easily addressed by seeing an optometrist,” Datuk Dr Chan said.
He added that optometrists can play a significant role to give the public better access particularly in rural areas to eye health and eye check-ups.
“We can help to examine the eyes for vision defects, signs of injury, ocular conditions, and problems with general eye health. We are also qualified and trained to diagnose and manage eye conditions to prevent it from degenerating or worsening,” he said.
En Ahmad Fadhullah, President of the Association of Malaysian Optometrist (AMO) said while there are over 2,700 optometrists in Malaysia capable of offering eye health services to the public, there is a crucial need for easy identification of optometry centres that provide primary eyecare services for the public to get these services.
The Association is proposing for the Ministry of Health Malaysia (MoH) to establish ‘Community Optometrists’ (CO) – a shared partnership model similar to UK’s practice, in ensuring high standards of eye care. The establishment of CO will also help the public identify optometry run by optometrists for them to get proper eye health services that are conducted by trained eye care professionals and differentiating these centres from the regular optical centres that do not provide eye health services.
Malaysia hopes to be the pioneering country in Asia to establish CO and to be an exemplary nation with a good eye healthcare system, thus inspiring other member countries in Asia Optometric Congress to follow the same path.
The conference saw the participation of over 600 delegates from 17 countries around Asia, including representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB).
The leading causes of vision impairment and blindness are uncorrected refractive errors and cataracts. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), globally, at least 2.2 billion people suffer from near or distance vision impairment of which at least 1 billion could have been prevented or has yet to be addressed.
WHO and IAPB are calling for global partners to work together with their government to strengthen the eye healthcare system and continue to build awareness among the public to seek out eye health services.
In its keynote address, IAPB highlights the escalating rate in vision impairment and blindness in Southeast Asia, including Malaysia. In 2020 in Southeast Asia, there were an estimated 95 million people with vision impairment. Of these, 6 million people were blind.
“There is an urgent need to highlight the range of eye care services offered by various eye care professionals that the public can go to for eye health care and checkups and as well as to make it easier for the public to access these services,” said Amanda Davis, Chair at IAPB.
She added that Cataract is the leading cause of blindness worldwide and optometrists play a key role in the diagnosis of cataract and referral for ophthalmic surgery.
Vision impairment impacts one’s quality of life and in some cases result in greater accident risks, lower productivity and unemployment.