Rachel Reed
Sep 18, 2017 · 7 min read

I am grateful to have served as the World Council of Optometry Student Liaison at the recent World Congress of Optometry, in Hyderabad, India. It was a busy and exciting week meeting new faces and learning about global optometry. I traveled for a full 24 hours to Hyderabad, India from Houston, Texas. This was my first trip to Asia and I was excited for the opportunity to meet new people and be part of such a diverse gathering.

What is the World Congress of Optometry?

The World Congress of Optometry is a biannual meeting that started in 2015 in Medellin, Colombia and this year was a successful following! This meeting was held from September 11–13, 2017 in Hyderabad, India. The World Council of Optometry (WCO), the Asia Pacific Council of Optometry (APCO), and the India Vision Institute (IVI) worked together to host the 2nd World Congress of Optometry, whose theme was accessible quality vision and eye health. The Congress brought together over 1300 attendees from over 45 countries!

The World Congress provided optometrists, vision scientists, educators, researchers, students and other visual health professionals opportunities for networking and collaboration. There were also several continuing education lectures and workshops in areas including: ocular disease, binocular vision, glaucoma, low vision, contact lenses. Participants worked together to create goals that will help shape the future of optometry in years to come.

What is the World Council of Optometry?

The WCO is a non-profit organization that focuses on reducing avoidable blindness through global optometry advocacy, education, policy development, and humanitarian outreach. The WCO represents over 200,000 optometrists in almost 60 countries and plays a pivotal role in facilitating collaborative efforts between organizations and individuals so as to create sustainable changes to our profession. I am currently serving as the student liaison to the World Council of Optometry, and was fortunate to join the WCO delegates at the Congress. To learn more, visit the WCO website.

How do I attend the next World Congress of Optometry?

All optometry students and optometrists are invited to attend. Stay tuned for the announcement of the locations for the upcoming Congress in 2019 and 2021. Check out the World Council of Optometry website in the upcoming weeks for this exciting announcement.

What did you do as the student delegate while at the Congress?

President’s Forum

  • I attended the President’s Forum, which was comprised of 70+ WCO leaders from across the globe. The incoming president, Dr. Scott Mundle, announced the central focus for the WCO in his upcoming presidency, including: (1) increasing the influence of optometry among healthcare and (2) meeting children’s vision needs.
  • We had round-table discussions to brainstorm the future of pediatric optometry including unmet needs of children globally, resources needed in order to meet these needs, and partnerships that would help make these goals possible. One of the challenges we discussed was that often children are required to receive eye exams prior to entering school, but then there is a ‘drop off’ of eye exams during the following years of education. Additionally, I learned that in many countries (particularly in Europe and Asia) optometry schools do not have partnerships with elementary schools, making it challenging for children to receive eye exams. At University of Houston College of Optometry, children from local elementary schools arrive in school buses each week to receive free eye exams from third and fourth-year optometry students.

Optometry in India

  • 26 million people are affected by visual impairment in India, and 7 million are blind. Eyecare specialists are not able to meet the needs of the people currently, so there is a great demand for optometry regulation in India.
  • 36 million people are blind in the world, and ~20% of these individuals live in India.
  • Uncorrected refractive error is still the major cause of vision impairment in the world, and should be avoidable if patients have access to optometrists.
  • 70% of people in India live in rural areas. A big focus of the Congress was making eyecare more accessible.
  • In India, optometrists receive a Bachelor’s of Science in Optometry and are practicing optometrists after 4 years of study. They do not have therapeutic licenses.
  • Optometry in India has progressed significantly in recent years, but there’s still much progress to be made. The hope is that the momentum from this congress will empower optometrists to give our profession a prominent role in the healthcare system, to improve the standard of care, and reach out to people of India in need of eyecare.

Global Optometry

  • I worked at the World Council of Optometry booth where I educated interested students and clinicians about the WCO, and offered a student perspective about our optometric education in the US. I learned a lot about how optometry works in different countries by talking to students and professionals from a wide range of countries.
  • For example, in most other countries, besides Canada, optometry is a 4-year Bachelor’s degree.
  • Many countries do not have governing boards to regulate the profession or create standards for optometry, so practitioners have limited guidelines for standards of care.
  • In Sri Lanka, optometrists can only dilate the eyes if an ophthalmologist is present.
  • In the Philippines, ‘vision screenings’ often include optometrists visiting nearby rural communities by boat, as this is the only way to access children in remote areas.
  • In Nepal, the only optometry school in the country graduates 10 students per year. They were excited to share this number had doubled (from 5 students) in recent years.

Continuing Education

  • I attended a lecture on glaucoma by Dr. Melton and Dr. Thomas who are leading optometrists specializing in glaucoma care. Dr. Melton and Dr. Thomas are well known for their annual publication of Clinical Guide to Ophthalmic Drugs. This lecture emphasized how optometrists are essential in diagnosing and managing glaucoma patients. The doctors shared that in the developing world, 50% of people with glaucoma have not been diagnosed with this blinding disease. However, in India, this number goes up to 90%. To address this issue, the doctors educated the audience on detection techniques and glaucoma management practices.

What is Hyderabad like?

Hyderabad is the capital city of the Indian state of Telangana. It is the fourth largest city in India and is known for its rich history, food, cultural diversity, and prominent film industry. The people were friendly and welcoming, their traditional clothing was beautiful, and the biryani was beyond delicious. I saw first hand a stark contrast between the exotic palaces fit for kings, and the impoverished areas that several people live in; which justifies the need for accessible healthcare.

Exploring Nearby

  • I visited the LV Prasad Eye Institute (LVPEI) with a group of optometrists from the Philippines. LVPEI is a nonprofit comprehensive eyecare institution dedicated to high-quality patient care and research. The institute sees 1,500 patients a day, and patients come from all parts of India and surrounding countries, including Africa and the Middle East. I learned about the cutting-edge vision science technology taking place here, including myopia control, simplifying the prosthetic process, and increasing quality of patient care.
  • In one of our free nights, I visited the Chowmahalla palace with other conference attendees. Chowmahalla is an elegant palace built in the 1850’s and it belonged to the Nizams who ruled Hyderabad. We had dinner and listened to traditional music after exploring the palace and surrounding gardens.

What did you learn from your experience?

Overall, I’ve walked away from this experience with a global outlook on optometry.

  • Scope of practice varies greatly and that optometry needs advocates, especially in terms of governing boards, similar to how the AOA serves in the US.
  • While we are working to improve optometry in urban areas, there’s still a great need for eyecare in rural areas. Over 70% of people in India live in rural areas. We need to increase accessibility to eyecare in order to decrease blindness and visual impairment.
  • There is a great need to reduce blindness in the world, as well as the current research and developments that are aimed at doing so.
  • There are many advancements to be made, especially in children’s vision and disease detection.
  • I saw the hope and commitment of thousands of optometrists worldwide. I am confident that we can respond to the challenges that lie ahead through global cooperation and collaboration and that more importantly, we can make these changes within our lifetime. The young optometrists were enthusiastic to become involved and make global changes, which encouraged me that our future in optometry is bright.

Rachel Reed, AOSA-WCO National Liaison

University of Houston College of Optometry

Rachel Reed

Written by

Doctor of Optometry student at University of Houston College of Optometry. President of UHCO SVOSH and AOSA National Liaison to the World Council of Optometry