The biggest cause of blindness is easily preventable by providing prescription glasses, yet approximately 84 million people in Africa are unnecessary blind or have bad vision, because they don’t have access to this relatively inexpensive solution. It’s The Optical Foundation goal to make eye care accessible in the developing world through comprehensive eye examinations, education and research.
The Optical Foundation focuses specifically on children, because any untreated eye disorder can greatly impact their educational development and early detection can prevent illiteracy.
The Optical Foundation performs comprehensive eye examinations at primary schools, orphanages and other community assembly points. For many children this is their first ever eye examination, so The Optical Foundation ensures it is an extensive eye examination that includes: visual acuity assessment, refractive error and binocular vision assessment, and assessment of the eyelids, cornea, crystalline lens and the retina.
While most children screened may have healthy eyes, there is a notable percentage of children who face severe eye problems. These eye defects would have been detected at Early Childhood Centres in countries like the Netherlands or Australia, etc, but since there are no such clinics in Ghana, we are often the first to detect these serious eye defects. It’s so important to detect these eye disorders at an early age, because they are still treatable then. The longer one waits with treatment, the worse the prognosis.
When a child is found to need glasses as a result of the comprehensive eye examination, their family can buy them a pair of glasses from The Optical Foundation for a nominal fee of approximately 2 Euros (± US$2.50). While this fee of 2 Euros nowhere near covers the actual costs associated, it still is a significant amount for money for the locals. However rather than giving the glasses for free, The Optical Foundation charges a token fee with the underlying philosophy that if something is given for free, then there is no real understanding of its value. This fee, although it doesn’t cover the costs, goes towards paying some of the costs the local workshop charges to cut the lenses.
Education is a key driver for the long-term sustainability of eye health care in Ghana. The Optical Foundation contributes to Optometry education in Ghana through practical experience opportunities, guest lectures and grants to attend conferences.
Practical experience opportunities
The Optical Foundation’s comprehensive eye examination projects are structured to incorporate a practical experience component that ties in with the University’s Optometry training curriculum, giving local optometry students an opportunity to gain more hands-on practical experience.
For the practical experience component, local students get teamed up with international and local qualified optometrists and get to perform supervised eye examinations on the children. Each comprehensive eye examination they perform and every different eye condition they encounter, gives the students extensive practical experience and exposure to a wealth of knowledge that is passed onto them by the industry peer who they have been teamed up with. We encourage this knowledge sharing, as it will help these local optometry students expand their knowledge and become the future specialists in their own country.
A very big focus in the practical experience component is the empowerment of women. Becoming a good practitioner in the field of optometry requires exposure to all aspects of the practical experience training and by ensuring we setup all-female eye examination teams we remove any bias associated with the gender hierarchy, and these young women get exposure to all aspects of the practical training.
Like all medical fields, optometry is continually evolving and the sharing of knowledge is vital in staying up to date with the latest developments.
While the practical experience stimulates students’ motivation to learn and gives them an opportunity to develop a practical understanding, The Optical Foundation drives the motivation to learning further through its guest lecture program.
The lecture program is either a component added to a visiting (optometrist/orthoptist) volunteer’s schedule or it is a stand-alone lecture tour. Usually as part of a comprehensive eye examinations project our volunteers will visit the local University’s Department of Optometry and provide a lecture for the students.
For most Ghanaian optometrist and students there may never be an opportunity for them to attend any international conference outside of Ghana. So The Optical Foundation brings renowned optometry professors and professionals to Ghana to share their knowledge, inspire and motivate optometrists and students. But in return the experience is just as inspiring and rewarding for the visiting lecturer, as it allows them to give something back to the field of optometry where it will make a huge difference.
Travel Grants for attending conferences
Although The Optical Foundation organises experts to visit Ghana, nothing is as inspiring and educational as attending a conference where professors from around the world passionately share insights into the latest developments in optometry.
The Optical Foundation provides travel grants for promising young optometry students to attend international conferences.
The knowledge gained from these conferences is then taken back to Ghana and shared with other teachers and students through a presentation given by the awardee. It is a great way of getting new knowledge into Ghana.
The Optical Foundation is mapping prevalent eye problems in Ghana as well as facilitating and driving research in collaboration with local universities & eye clinics. The knowledge and expertise gained through research is vital for creating change and awareness that will have a huge impact – on policies, on economies and on lives.
Scientific research offers new challenges for optometrists in Ghana and will help to broaden their knowledge, skill set and career opportunities.