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Efforts on top gear to tackle blindness in northern Nigeria

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The NOA Conference and EXPO is Nigeria’s biggest national conference in optometry held yearly and hosted by the Nigerian Optometric Association (NOA). This year, the conference is bigger as NOA marks its 51st anniversary and the 43rd AGM and conference. As the event holds today, President of the association Dr. Ozy Okonokhua speaks with FLORENCE UTOR about its expectations and the benefits to the public.

What is the NOA conference all about?
The NOA Annual National Conference has been held since 1976 when the first edition held at the YMCA Hall, Ikoyi Lagos. It is an annual gathering of licensed Nigerian optometrists, where they discuss the latest developments in the health and vision care industry. The conference offers the association a chance to also showcase recent developments in optometry in Nigeria and around the world, while attracting government and public interest to the profession with a view to improving eye care indices in Nigeria. Every year, several renowned resource persons are brought in during the conference to share knowledge, skills, and information with us in order to improve on our efficiency in meeting the ever-increasing need of our population-in-need. In the same period, optometrists also find time to explore the latest innovations and technologies being applied in the industry to improve care.
 
How has the conference improved the practice of the profession in Nigeria?
In bringing together renowned resource persons from around the world to discuss pro-optometry and pro-health issues, we also proffer solutions to the myriad of challenges facing eye care, both in Nigeria and elsewhere. This information we are able to come up with are crystalized into plans and strategies that help us in solving some of the problems facing the profession; eye care service delivery, the health system and ultimately economic development of the nation. Every year, research is centered around the theme of the conference in order to drive the values and principles higher for the practice of optometry in Nigeria, and in doing this, we help lower the incidence of blindness in Nigeria and even elsewhere seeing that some of our colleagues who are resident elsewhere also come in for these conferences and also take home the information, skills and knowledge on offer.

 
What efforts have practitioners made in enlightening the public about eye cares to avoid unnecessary problems, especially in the north where many are still blind?
The NOA has taken the delivery of eye care services in the North very seriously following the dissemination of the results of the national blindness and low vision survey, which gave the distribution of eye disease patterns in Nigeria. We have strengthened our resolve to render eye care services in the North, opened up more NOA chapters in the North, advocated for the establishment of optometry training schools in the North and scaled up our public enlightenment campaign against harmful eye care practices with an emphasis on those that lead to blindness.

In addition, we have also developed public awareness messages even in local languages to bring the message closer to the people. While these have been giant strides, we also need support across the board to reach even more percentage of the population, both in the north and elsewhere.

What is the theme for this year’s event and what informed it?
The theme for this year’s conference is: Achieving universal access to eye health: The Way Forward. The theme was chosen in view of the call by the global health body to integrate eye health into the primary healthcare system, so as bring eye care closer to the community. Unless all stakeholders see the need to bring healthcare under one roof, we shall always have the onerous task of tackling diseases late in the stage of development and continue to record worsening statistics in eye care indices in spite of the best of our efforts. Regularly, our conference themes reflect the desired direction of professional development within the period and every practitioner buys into them and makes necessary adjustments to reflect such in their individual professional practices and engagements.

What do participants stand to gain? Who are the resource persons?
Participants will gain access to the current trend in blindness prevention that will enhance their clinical skills and competencies. There are several renowned speakers at this event, including those from the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), the World Health Organisation (WHO), among others, from around and elsewhere.

Is the event opened to the public or only practitioners? 
Attendance to the opening ceremony is open to the public. The scientific session is for the optometrists and other related professionals. However, the outcome of the entire event has a very far-reaching impact on the public and bears significance on their overall wellbeing. So, invariably the program is also a public health program.

Have the association made any efforts in curbing quacks in the industry, as many people still perform eye examination and get glasses on the streets?
Yes. A lot of quacks have been apprehended in the recent past. NOA chapters in Akwa Ibom State, Cross Rivers State and Adamawa State have recorded huge successes in the battle against the menace of quacks in recent days. Elsewhere, we have multiple types of machinery that help reduce the menace of quacks and also strict regulations for training institutions in order to ensure only fit and proper persons join the profession. We also support the regulatory agency for the profession in regular raids on quacks hideout and numerous other efforts. In spite of all these, there is still room for improvement and I use this medium to call on the public to join this fight by exposing quacks in their midst; people who engage in unhealthy practices and apply into their eyes things that they know are not based on any verifiable knowledge. Most especially, the public should desist from patronizing them at all.

What will the public be expected from the association after the conference?
Improved optometry services in Nigeria, and expanded access to quality eye care to the reaches of the country over the coming years. More so, there will be an avalanche of eye care information available to them from multiple media agencies within the days we shall be holding this conference. I urge everyone to tune in via radios, TVs and newspapers to improve their knowledge about eye care and health.


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