Optometry Overseas

Namaste! After spending 2 weeks in India for a wedding, I am a little jet lagged and excited to be back home and write another blog post! It was a wonderful experience to go to my parents’ home country and visit family and friends. The bride was my cousin and her fiancé (now husband) is an ophthalmologist. As you all know, I have been obsessed with anything to do with eyes, so I jumped at the opportunity to speak to him. We got into a lengthy chat and here were the highlights of our conversation:

India has the highest number of Optometry programs in the world.
Optometry is a little different in India. There are two levels: a 2-year certificate program, and more recently, a 4-year doctorate, containing the same degree those at ICO receive at graduation: O.D. Due to high demand for eye care, India has a whopping total of 55 programs for optometry.

Eye care is needed throughout the world.
Most of you know this already, which is why you are choosing to make a difference and work towards the advancement and preservation of eye care. But did you know that 285 MILLION people in our world today have some form of vision problem? To put this into perspective, the population of America is 324 million.

Pediatric Optometry is the backbone.
When speaking to my new cousin-in-law, he mentioned the reason that he became interested in eye care. He was diagnosed as a low vision patient when he was about 9. With years of therapy and corrective lenses, his vision is nearly normal today. He mentioned that, without the help of a pediatric team of eye care professionals, he would be nowhere close to where he is today. Many kids need not only a knowledgeable eye care professional, but also a compassionate one.

90% of the world’s visually impaired come from low-income settings and developing countries.
To further elaborate on this statistic, around the globe, about 43% need refractions to correct eyesight. That is almost half of the population. In India, those with means are able to get eye care- no problem. The heart of the issue is those who do not have means, or are in areas that do not provide care. My cousin-in-law’s college had days where those who did not have means could come for reduced or free care. He sadly reported to me that the few days that they had were no match for the hundreds that would come seeking help.

80% of visual impairments can be prevented or cured.
Add this statement to the one that was mentioned above: “Those who need care the most,” he said, “are not able to get the care they deserve.” At this point, we both were took a moment of silence to digest the magnitude of the situation. I told him about the Kansas City Free Eye Clinic that I worked at and mentioned all that the Illinois Eye Institute does for patients. We both wish it were enough.

On the bright side, however, he spoke about how noble of a profession it was. He spoke about how there is nothing more rewarding than giving the gift of sight. He states that though there is a lot of work to be done, steps in the positive direction and people in eye care (both old and new) are making giant waves. “As long as there are people who want to go into the profession, a difference will always be made,” said my cousin-in-law.

As we parted ways, he promised that next year, when they both visit America, he would most definitely be visiting us in Chicago and would love a tour of ICO. He joked that I should drink 8 glasses of water, eat vegetables, and practice refraction every day.

 

As I left India, I thought about a lot of things. How I was sad to leave my family. How proud they were that I was “going to school to be an eye doctor.” How there are millions of people waiting for care. How one person can truly make a difference. How ICO is going to take my malleable self and turn me into the best eye care provider I can be, and I for one can’t wait to meet that girl in four years and reflect back to this moment.

(For this post, I would like to conclude with a special thanks to my cousin and her husband. For more information on visual impairment on a global scale, visit: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs282/en/)

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