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Progress towards eliminating avoidable blindness and vision impairment in Eritrea recently took a measureable step forward when the first 16 students graduated from the newly initiated three year Optometry Technician’s course, at the School of Optometry at Asmara College of Health Sciences supported by the Foundation.
The graduation is a celebrated achievement for eye care in Eritrea as all 16 fully qualified Optometric Technicians have already secured employment in vision centres located across the country. Their placements will help address the vital need for eye care by increasing trained personnel to offer greater access to optometry services for the local communities.
In 2009, the Eritrean government put in place a national five year strategy to work progressively towards achieving the goals of the International Agency for Prevention of Blindness, Vision 2020: Right to Sight, to eliminate avoidable blindness and vision impairment by the year 2020. The Foundation is one of the supporting partners working in collaboration with the government to assist in achieving this goal. the Foundation collaborative work in Eritrea includes the Optometry Services Program which has supported the development of the School of Optometry and the Optometry Technician’s course attended by the recent graduates.
Mary Wepo, Country Manager for Eritrea said, “This is a memorable occasion where the first 16 graduates of the optometry program will have the necessary skills to work within their communities and make positive contributions towards alleviating vision problems associated with the lack of access to eye care in Eritrea.”
Ongoing support for the School of Optometry has ensured the infrastructure is now established for long term education of eye care professionals. This marks an exciting new era for Eritrea and provides a concrete step forward in developing the optometry profession.
Petronella Nichols, Regional Manager for Africa, talked about the importance of having qualified eye care professionals. “The graduation of these students is a landmark for the development of eye care services in Africa. The link between poverty and poor eye sight is unfortunately well established, but the technician’s expertise in providing eye care at the community level where it is most needed, will not only improve education and employment opportunities but also the quality of life for the high number of people affected by vision impairment In Eritrea,” said Ms Nichols.
Dr Luigi Bilotto, Director Global Human Resource Development spoke about the positive impact being made in Eritrea. “By initiating the development of the School of Optometry we ensured the permanent infrastructure is available to educate and train eye care professionals in an underserved community for many years to come. Making eye care accessible worldwide is a long term commitment of our organisation, and raining the necessary human resources to provide eye care services locally, is essential to achieving our objective. Supporting students and the school brings us one step closer to our goal,” said Dr Bilotto.
The Foundation's approach of developing long term solutions through investment in local eye care education and building service delivery systems ensures sustainable eye care becomes an intrinsic part of the established health care system within the nation.
The Optometric Technician Diploma is a successful collaboration between the Foundation, the Ministry of Health and the Asmara College of Health Sciences and is part of the National Prevention of Blindness Strategic Plan for Eritrea. Foundation programs in Eritrea are supported by funding from Australian Agency for International Aid and Optometry Giving Sight.