The Union government is planning to frame a national policy to standardise the training and functioning of allied eyecare professionals, including opticians, a health ministry official has said. The allied eyecare sector is unregulated and there is no uniformity in the standards of training for opticians. Thousands of unregulated opticians provide primary vision care ranging from sight testing to diagnosis and treatment, going beyond their brief. According to government estimates, there are around 90,000 opticians who are neither registered under the National Programme for Control of Blindness (NPCB) nor have they completed a full-time graduate programme in optometry, a course which deals with the examination, diagnosis, treatment and management of diseases of the visual system. The Union health ministry has called a meeting tomorrow of various stakeholders including ophthalmologists, dispensing opticians, opthalmic assistants, optometrists and other eyecare providers in the country. "The aim of the meeting is to understand the variances in the standards in eyecare related training particularly with respect to skills and competency of eyecare providers who are non-doctors," said a senior health ministry official. According to Prof.
Praveen Vashist, in-charge, Community Ophthalmology at Dr R P Centre for Ophthalmic Sciences, AIIMS, the responsibility of prescribing spectacles as well as the medical diagnosis and management of eye disease lies with optometrists. "But what happens is that there are a large number of optical units, which should only be dispensing spectacles, are also prescribing (spectacles) and providing diagnosis and treatment without having any recognised degree or training," he laments. There are many opticians who practice eyecare and offer diagnosis without any degree or training and their only qualification is that their parents or forefathers were in the same business, he said. "Therefore, it is essential that the sector is regulated." As chemist shops are run under regulation and they have to have a pharmacist with them, all optical shops should mandatorily have trained optometrists if they are prescribing spectacles and performing sight testing, he suggested. Another health ministry official said currently, several short-duration courses are being offered by institutes without appropriate didactic and practical guidelines and curriculum. Aspiring students get lured by such institutes posing as legal entities and providing short-term skill-based courses in eyecare, the official explained. "Those completing such courses lack knowledge and skills and if they manage to get into the system they pose a great threat," he said. "One wrong drop or misdiagnosed vision problem may led to disastrous eye care outcomes." As per a World Health Organisation 2010 data, 39 million people were blind and 246 million were visually impaired globally, with India accounting for 20 per cent of the global blindness and visual impairment burden. "The motto is to create a sustainable and effective policy for eduction and clinical care in the area of eye care, especially for the allied eye care professionals," the health ministry official said. All the stakeholders have been asked to prepare a three- minute presentation and express their views on issues and challenges in eyecare, skills-based courses and any other policy recommendation.
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