Like many African countries, Uganda has a scarcity of trained eye care professionals with only 37 ophthalmologists, 7 foreign-trained optometrists and 207 refracting ophthalmic clinical officers (nurses) to serve the needs of 40.3 million Ugandans.
The opening of the Optometry Program at Makerere University College of Health Sciences in 2014 has the capacity to change the eye care landscape in Uganda, with 20 students currently enrolled in Years One and Two of the 4 year program.
Dr. Jerson Desiderio (pictured centre), a graduate of Pennsylvania College of Optometry at Salus University, was appointed as Lecturer in January, as part of the VOSH Corps volunteer teaching program.
"My interaction with the students has been very positive,” he said. "The students are eager to learn and have been performing very well on anything I throw their way. Whether it’s a 35 minute practical, a pop quiz, or precepting them on a screening, they have proven to be prepared and motivated. They are serious about their studies but also balance a great sense of humor and fun with the coursework".
Dr. Desiderio believes that the level of development of optometry in Uganda currently is growing quickly. There is already a national association and student optometry association in place both with active members. There has been discussion with the various government ministries to ensure optometry as a well regulated profession guaranteeing work in the public sector for the first graduates.
The advent of a new teaching facility and academic vision centre means that the number of students that can be trained will continue to increase. They have even started discussions with a few pioneer students to hopefully return as lecturers in a few short years.
Watching the progression of his students into maturing future practitioners has been highly motivating for Dr. Desiderio.
"Seeing the smiles on their faces, the lightbulbs go on in their heads, and the vocalization of success after performing a successful trial frame refraction on a patient during a screening, finding the optic nerve for the first time when practicing direct ophthalmoscopy, or correctly diagnosing an ocular condition has been inspirational,” he said.
"Their excitement and hard work transports me back to the optimism I felt when I was a student. Being able to precept at outreaches that resemble the communities they grew up in and their realization’s of the potential impact they’ll have in those said communities has been a very humbling experience".
This Optometry Program at Makerere University is a collaboration between Brien Holden Vision Institute, the Commissioner of Clinical Services at the Ministry of Health, the Department of Ophthalmology at Makerere University, Light for the World, Optometrists Association of Uganda with funding support from Optometry Giving Sight.
Photo courtesy Collective Clarity