Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, 15 October 2015: One year ago, September 2014 heralded a historic moment for Vietnam’s education and eye health sectors with the opening of Vietnam’s first optometry program at the Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine in Ho Chi Minh City.
Fast forward to today, and 16 student optometrists have been joined by 30 more – totaling 46 future optometrists for Vietnam in the making.
The optometry program is the culmination of a ten year plan to introduce optometry to the country, with the primary goal of alleviating the burden of uncorrected refractive error in Vietnam in line with the Vietnamese National Eye Health Plan. It is a joint initiative between Brien Holden Vision Institute, the Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine (UPNT) and the Ho Chi Minh City Eye Hospital.
A celebratory event launched the start of the optometry course for the new influx of first year students, and a welcome back for returning students.
Dr. Pham Dang Dieu, Vice Rector of UPNT attended the event, he said, “The UPNT is very happy to welcome you, the new students of the optometry course in the academic year of 2015-2016. You can be proud of yourself who are the pioneers in the optometry development in Vietnam. I hope that after four years when you graduate, you will not only contribute actively to the people's eye care but also will develop further optometry in Vietnam”
Ms. Ly Huynh, Country Representative, Brien Holden Vision Institute described her feeling of achievement, “I am very happy to be here today, and to see 46 bright and fresh faces of the optometry students of UPNT. I can see that you are very eager to step into a new profession which will bring good-quality eye care to the people of Vietnam. I wish you luck. Obtain as much knowledge and skill as you can and bring that to your future work.”
The World Health Organization recommends a minimum of one optometrist per 50,000 people by the year 2020. To reach this target, Vietnam needs to have 1,800 qualified optometrists - currently, there are only ten.
Mr. Tran Hoai Long, Head of Sub-department of Optometry Education and Vision Science, has been a long term advocate for the development of optometry services in Vietnam. He said, “I am very proud to see the outcomes of ten years’ effort culminated in 46 students who are, and will study optometry at UPNT. I hope that all of you, will try your best to gain knowledge of optometry to improve the quality of eye care for Vietnamese people in the future.”
Ms. Do Chau Cat Tuong, optometry student, was elated at passing her first year of optometry training. She said, “After one year studying this optometry program, I am really delighted to say that this course has provided us so much useful knowledge that my friend and I feel really prepared for our future careers.”
“On this celebratory event, I want to show my sincere gratitude to the professors, doctors and teachers, as well as Brien Holden Vision Institute and Optometry Giving Sight in Australia who have done so much to give Vietnamese students this amazing program. Thank you for offering 16 students, one year ago the chance to become optometrists. We will help to reduce refractive errors and eye-related diseases for the people in our communities,” added Ms. Do Chau Cat Tuong.
The current refractive error rate in Vietnam is estimated at 15% to 40% or approximately 14-36 million people. Among children (6-15 year old), the rate of refractive errors rate is estimated to be as high as 40% in urban areas, and 15% in rural areas. This translates to approximately three million children in need of glasses.
Dr Anthony Hanks, Optometry Giving Sight, was very pleased to be attending the event. He said, “This course will make a large improvement to the accessibility of quality eye care in Vietnam. After graduating the new optometrists will literally restore people’s vision and change their lives for the better. It’s a wonderful program and it will be a rewarding life’s work for everyone involved.”
Eye care programs implemented by Brien Holden Vision Institute in Vietnam are supported by funding from the Australian Government's East Asia Vision Program and Optometry Giving Sight.