At the beginning of March, a group of European optometrists had the privilege of travelling to Vietnam to see a number of Optometry Giving Sight projects, as part of an organized study tour.
There is nothing to make you appreciate the value of the work that Optometry Giving Sight does than visit one of the projects they fund. Vietnam is a colourfulvibrant country with a rich history and friendly people, it is not lacking in sights to enthrall visitors. However, at the end of our two-week visit, the British optometrists travelling all listed our interaction with the optometry students at Pham Ngoc Thach Medical University in Ho Chi Minh City as one of the highlights of the tour. In fact, they thought the students inspirational and were thrilled to share discussion and clinical pearls of wisdom with them.
Optometry only came to Vietnam recently. The first school of optometry was established in 2014 at Pham Ngoc Thach Medical University. With a population of 90 million, there are 9 optometrists. And if you thought your appointment book was full, the demand for eye care is enormous, with visual impairment estimated at 13% of the population of which 30% is due to uncorrected refractive error. This is exactly the role of Optometry Giving Sight, to fund solutions that enable capacity to be built to provide training and delivery of affordable and sustainable eye care.
Supported by the Brien Holden Vision Institute the road to the first optometry course started with refraction training for four ophthalmologists and eight nurses in 2008 in collaboration with the Vietnam National Institute of Ophthalmology in Hanoi. In 2009 recognizing the need for faculty expansion, four students were sponsored to attend optometry college in Malaysia and India.
Fast forward to March 2016 and twelve experienced British optometrists sat in a lab at Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine in Ho Chi Minh City. Around them were cubicles, trial frames, Snellem charts, and students tentatively fumbling with trial lenses as they practiced refraction. Each cubicle even had a hand drawn poster explaining why optometry is a great profession. The scene was familiar to any optometrist. The short time we were due to stay grew as we shared our experiences of optometry with them, and gave them a few clinical tips. They were keen learners and asked plenty of questions. What was palpable was their enthusiasm. We came away aware that we were lucky to be witnessing firsthand the birth of the profession in Vietnam. It will take time. With the continued enthusiasm and commitment of only three academics, they were still on their way to reducing the devastating impact of uncorrected refractive error on the population. That is the difference that Optometry Giving Sight helps to make, transforming lives through the gift of vision.
Regional Manager, Europe
Optometry Giving Sight
The Optometry Development project in Vietnam is managed by the Brien Holden Vision Institute with implementing partners Ho Chi Minh City Eye Hospital (HCMCEH), PNTU, Hanoi Medical University (HMU) and the Vietnam National Institute of Ophthalmology (VNIO) as supporting partner. Funding is provided by Optometry Giving Sight and AusAID.