A COMMUNIQUÉ ISSUED AT THE END OF THE 45TH NATIONAL CONFERENCE / AGM AND VISION EXPO OF THE NIGERIAN OPTOMETRIC ASSOCIATION (NOA) HELD FROM 13TH TO 16TH JULY 2022 AT THE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE CENTRE (ICC), ABUJA
Over Two Thousand (2000) Optometrists, Vision Care experts, Eye Care Policy Makers and Leaders in the Optometry and Optical Health Industry from Nigeria, Africa and worldwide gathered at the International Conference Centre (ICC) in Abuja to brainstorm and discuss on current researches, policies and developments in the eye and Optometry/vision care industry in Nigeria. The theme of this year's Conference was LEVERAGING PARTNERSHIPS TO TRANSFORM OPTOMETRY AND EYE CARE IN WEST AFRICA
Dignitaries that graced the occasion include the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha; Honorable Minister of Science and Technology, Dr (Sen) Adeleke Olorunnimbe Mamora; Minister of the FCT, Mohammed Musa Bello; Honorable Minister of State for Power, GoddyJedy-Agba, OFR; the Chairman, FCT Council of Traditional Rulers, His Royal Majesty (HRM), the Ona of Abaji , Alhaji (Dr.) Adamu Baba Yunusa; Chairman of the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission (NSIWC), Mr. Ekpo Nta, Esq; Former Corps Marshal, Federal Road Safety Corps(FRSC) and former Minister of Aviation, Chief Osita Chidoka; Immediate Past Vice Chancellor of the Abia State University and Optometry Legend, Professor Eleazar Uche Ikonne; the Registrar, Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians Registration Board of Nigeria (ODORBN), Prof Ebele Uzodike; a Leadership Consultant and President, Gemstone Nation Builders Foundation, Mr. Fela Durotoye who was the Keynote Speaker; °NE's Africa Executive Director, Mr. Edwin Ikhuoria; the Permanent Secretary Federal Ministry of Transport, Dr Magdalene Ajani; Wife of the Chief of Defence Staff and President, Defence and Police Officers' Wives Association, Barr (Mrs) Vickie Irabor; a Representative of the Corps Marshal, FRSC and DCM Operations, Mr. J.K Fanola; Representative of the Minister of State for FCT; Heads of affiliate Optometry bodies, Delegates from the African Council of Optometry; Heads of Optometry training Institutions, Optometry Directors and Heads of Units in Government Agencies and Parastatals, among others. A two-day Pre-Conference workshop on Binocular Vision Management conducted by the Family of Optometric Mentors (FOM) from 11th to 12th July 2022, and free Eye and Vision Screening programme conducted by the Women Optometrists in Nigeria (WON) in suburban communities in Abuja heralded the Conference. President of the Nigerian Optometric Association (NOA), Dr Obinna Awiaka, said the theme of the Conference was chosen to help members form strong collaborations locally and internationally to pursue excellence in practice and develop the profession from mere improvement to transformational growth. Declaring the Conference open, the SGF stated that the Federal Government is ready to partner with the Nigerian Optometric Association and other eye care practitioners to transform Eye Care and Optometry programmes in Nigeria. Represented by Mr. Okokon Etoabasi, Director of the Public Affairs and Bilateral Department in the Office of the SGF, he assured of the readiness of Government to pursue evidence-based policies that will help Nigeria tackle the huge burden of Visual Impairment and Blindness. In a related vein, the NSIWC Boss, Mr. Ekpo Nta, Esq. urged all Health Professionals to embrace inter-professional partnerships and prioritize patients' interests at the health care centres, urging Optometrists to transform their competencies into complimentary roles to strengthen health care services, and eschew current rivalry among health care professions. The Honorable Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Adeleke Mamora advised health policy makers and Optometrists to focus more on Health Promotion and Preventive Health Care, leveraging the Primary Health Care programmes of the Federal Government of Nigeria and the global campaign on Universal Health Coverage.
Many speakers exposed the continued stigma on spectacle-wear prevalent among road users, and the health-seeking behaviour of Nigerians who depend on luck for healthy eye sight. The keynote speaker, Mr. Fele Durotoye, identified partnerships as key to transforming the health sector, stating that growth is possible when we come together and use our competencies to help each other. He noted that "WE' instead of "ME is the viable option of collaboration for growth. He further bemoaned the poor statistics of two Optometrists to one hundred thousand (2:100,000) persons in Nigeria in comparison with other developed countries and called for urgent action.
Highlight of the Opening Ceremony was the commissioning of the 'Optometry House' new Secretariat complex of the Nigerian Optometric Association by Professor E.U. Ikonne.
The Conference climaxed with a gala night and award of Fellowship of the Nigerian Optometric Association (FNOA) to ten (10) distinguished members of the Association.
At the end of the three-day scientific Conference, the following resolutions were reached:
- The Nigerian Optometric Association (NOA) should partner with policy makers in Government and Optometry Industry to translate results of research into policy and practice guidelines by proper dissemination of research outcomes to all relevant stakeholders.
- The NOA's Executives should identify and partner with stakeholders in the Transport Industry and FRSC to educate drivers and other road users on Spectacle use. They should embark on expedited advocacy drive among policy makers, institutions and relevant agencies to make policies that will institutionalize mandatory annual Eye and Vision health check among drivers and other road users.
- The NOA's Executives should identify and partner with Low Vision Device manufacturers and distributors to make Low Vision Aids available and affordable in Nigeria. Avenues to assemble Low Vision Devices in Nigeria should be explored without delay through partnership training programmes.
- The NOA should build bridges for intra and inter-professional collaborations among her membership and with other professionals, to foster growth in Eye Care development. The forum resolved that Opticians are under the Optometry Units in all Health Care settings and should be so recognized as part of Optometry unit. They also called on the Office of the Head of Service to provide a Scheme of Service for Opticians so as to guide them in their operations.
- The forum called on NOA's Executives to advocate for routine Cycloplegic Refraction and Myopia Control strategies as standard clinic protocol, to halt myopia progression. This has become urgent following results of studies showing that Myopia Prevalence in Africa is about 5%, and that Myopia is a significant contributor to die huge burden of Visual Impairment among Children in Nigeria and Africa.
- Members noted that quality education and healthcare are key indices in measuring good governance hence we call on the President, Federal Republic of Nigeria, Ministry of Education, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and relevant stakeholders to find a way of resolving the prolonged strike action, for the urgent purpose of resuming academic activities and contributions to national development.
- Members reaffirmed their commitments to a United Nigeria and identify with the efforts of our President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, towards tackling the current economic and security challenges facing the Nation.
- All Optometrists home and abroad were also called upon to resist the temptations of unethical practices and remain good ambassadors of Nigeria wherever they work.
- The NOA's Executives were mandated to find more ways to improve on the welfare of members through leveraging partnerships with Financial Institutions, Drug Manufacturing Companies, Federal Ministry of Labour, Productivity and Employment, Federal Ministry of Health, Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, etc. to address the current brain drain in Eye Care occasioned by the mass emigration of young Optometrists to Europe, Asia, Canada and USA
- The Media was challenged to incorporate Eye health awareness and intervention campaigns in their reportage as part of cooperate social responsibility to the public.
- The Federal Ministry of Health was commended for its' unbiased supervisory and regulatory roles and efforts to address the inequality and inequity among Health Care Professions. The recent expunging of Assistant Optometry Cadre from the Scheme of Service by the National Council on Establishment and the recognition of Optometrists as Primary Eye Care Providers in PHC by the National Eye Health Strategic Plan (NEHSP) are indicators of positive developments and attention to Vision Care Services Delivery in Nigeria.
Dr. Obinna Awiaka
Dr. Victor K. Aliche