Last week, Optometry Giving Sight announced the launch of the first optometry school in the Republic of Haiti. In its development, the organization had its work cut out for it. The country, which previously was home to only three optometrists, is largely unaware of the profession of optometry, according to Christina Sanko, the senior director of development at Optometry Giving Sight. The organization had to advocate not only for a school but for the profession itself, the representative explained.
The school, which is affiliated with the larger university I’Université d’État d’Haïti in Port-au-Prince, is currently in the process of seeking accreditation from the nation of 10 million’s ministers of health and education. The Australia-based Brien Holden Institute is assisting in that process by helping to educate government officials about the discipline and what it can offer Haitians. The Haitian National Committee for the Prevention of Blindness estimates the prevalence of blindness at 1% while other regional data estimates moderate and severe visual impairment at 5% and 22%, respectively. 1
Currently, the School of Optometry & Vision Sciences at the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy of I’Université d’État d’Haïti has 19 students enrolled and are bringing in two optometrists from Quebec to teach—the students are currently taking medical school classes alongside ophthalmology students. The institution’s plan is to graduate at least 16 students per year. “The curriculum is based on the US model,” explains Ms. Sanko. However, she notes that the program also offers a fifth year in which students will use their newfound skills to perform community service.
The Brien Holden Vision Institute Foundation along with partners the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness and the World Council of Optometry expect that the Haitian government will embrace optometry “once they see how ophthalmology can work in tandem with optometry,” says Ms. Sanko.
1. Tousignant B, Brûlé J. Prevalence of eye disease and visual impairment in Île de la Gonave, Haïti. Med Sante Trop. 2017 Aug 1;27(3):326-8.