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Education the way forward in LAC

Bucaramanga, Colombia, 10 December 2013: Exciting initiatives in Colombia, Haiti and Peru are laying the foundation for an expansion of eye care services to help millions unnecessarily blind or vision impaired in Latin America and the Caribbean. Practitioner numbers are low, with a deficit in training institutes a major factor, but a series of programs targeting optometry school development and equipping educators with teaching skills are a promising beginning for growth in services for the region.

With just three optometrists and 58 ophthalmologists in a country of 10 million people, the primary objective in Haiti is to establish an optometry school and earlier this year the L’Université d’État d’Haïti (l’UEH) and the Brien Holden Vision Institute partnered together to make this a reality. Haiti is still in the process of rebuilding following the devastating earthquake of January 2010 and there remains a major shortage of health care personnel and a lack of hospitals resources. Involving the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy at l’UEH, the new optometry program will create an essential core of personnel that will help to bridge the gap in eye care.

In January 2013, the Institute opened its Latin America office in Colombia, now under the leadership of regional coordinator Dr Vivien Ocampo and Regional Education Coordinator, Dr Luisa Casas Luque. The FEDOPTO National Congress (Colombian Federation of Optometrists), held in Cartagena, Colombia, in September, provided an ideal forum to showcase the Institute’s new programs in the region and build support for further initiatives.

“The challenges in Latin American and the Caribbean Islands may be vast but the experience of the Institute in the area of eye care development and public health puts us in a good position to significantly contribute towards addressing the regional needs.  Research priorities for the region will support and strengthen projects in refractive error for those countries that are part of ALDOO (Asociación Lantinoamerican de Optometria y Optica), FEDOPTO (Colombian Federation of Optometrist) and REISVO (Red Iberoamericana epidemiological for vision and eye health),” said Dr Ocampo.

Education initiatives include a faculty development workshop, held in Peru in October, which drew participants from Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Argentina. The EyeTeach©: ‘From Clinician to Educator’ workshop will help build institutional capacity for education and was well received with plans to extend the program to other countries in the region.

Other events included the Brien Holden Vision Institute Academy Lecture Series in October, hosted with La Salle University, Colombia, which generated substantial interest, prompting plans for an expansion of the lecture series. It also identified a strong need for further online resources in Spanish for professional development. At present, a range of optometry educational materials along with online resources have been made available in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese.

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