Sahondranirina and Raveloson are 2 Madagascan students studying towards their optometry technician diplomas at Mali’s School of Optometry, based at the Institute of Tropical Ophthalmology (IOTA) in West Africa. They are excited about applying their new trade in their home country, where they plan to return later this year after completing their 3-year Diploma.
“I would like to help to reduce avoidable blindness in my country, by treating uncorrected refractive errors and other eye health related problems,” Sahondranirina explained.
In Madagascar, refractive error and cataracts are the main cause of avoidable blindness. Currently, there are no optometrists to assist these people, or an established education program to provide training for people looking to offer optometric services.
“After we graduate, we want to start working immediately to provide for the people that need refraction services and refer those with other eye problems. We plan to conduct a number of outreach programs and establish a centre for refractive services in Madagascar. We also want to work with the Ministry of Health in order to garner enough attention for the project,” explained Sahondranirina.
“When I finish my studies, I would like to open a clinic providing high-quality refractive error services at an affordable price, “said Raveloson. “That is another very important thing for the development of eye care in this country, affordability. I will also use this clinic to inform patients about serious eye conditions such as glaucoma so they know how to recognise the signs and when to seek treatment.”
However, despite their unflinching determination there is still a long road ahead to have optometry recognised as a crucial necessity within Madagascar.
“There are many things we need to do: create local positions for optometry service delivery; develop primary and community level service; establish working relations with public ophthalmologic centers, as a part of their team, and with the Ministry of Health. In addition to this, we will need funding for low costs spectacles.”
The young graduate also plans to study towards a Masters or doctorate in optometry, for research, or teaching.
“I am hoping that many more people will choose to study optometry and over the next few years we can start making a marked difference,’ she said. “The biggest problem we have at the moment is that there are just 2 of us”.
Sahondranirina and Raveloson have been studying their Diplomas of Optometry on scholarships named in honour of Dr. Mario Gutierrez and Dr. Greg Pearl. The School of Optometry program in Mali is part funded by Optometry Giving Sight and implemented by the Brien Holden Vision Institute in association with IOTA.
Main photo: Sahondranirina with patient.
Smaller photo: Raveloson with patient.