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Jamaica has the worst rate of optometrists to patient- Grant

Published:Tuesday | February 2, 2016 | 2:20 PMTamara Bailey
Michael Stewart (left) board chairman, Mandeville Regional Hospital, presents Scotiabank Mandeville branch manager Earl Blake with a plaque, thanking the bank for its commitment and benevolence to the development of the Mandeville Regional Hospital Eye Clinic. Scotiabank, through the ScotiaFoundation, contributed $1 million towards the effort.

MANDEVILLE, Manchester:

From an old, leaky room that was too small to handle, the just under 2,000 patients it saw annually and the approximately 63 surgeries that had to be performed, the Mandeville Regional Hospital (MRH), through the partnership of the Southern Regional Health Authority (SRHA), Caribbean Council for the Blind, SightSavers, the European Union, the Jamaica Society for the Blind, among other sponsors and stakeholders, recently opened a state-of-the-art ophthalmology clinic and operating theatre.

With the process from conception to execution spanning nearly two decades, the Eye Department has been upgraded from one ophthalmologist and one nurse to four consultant-level ophthalmologists, four resident ophthalmologists and senior house officers, five nurses, and a full-time optometry and low-vision service.

Chief Executive Officer at the Caribbean Council for the Blind Arvel Grant, during his address at the official opening ceremony, said the rate of blindness among citizens has increased due to the low number of optometrists and the lack of resources.

"Jamaica has the worst cataract rate in the Caribbean, and that is not something we should be proud of, and that is something we should work hard to change because if we are not operating on cataracts at the rate we should, then people will become blind unnecessarily," Grant said.

He added: "...We have the worst rate of optometrist to patients. Jamaica has 180,000 persons to one optometrist, while in the case of Guyana, the ratio is 30,000 Guyanese to one optometrist. in Barbados, the ratio is 27,000 Bajans to one optometrist. in Trinidad and Tobago, it is 13,000 to one optometrist. in the UK, it is 5,600 to one optometrist, and in Canada, it is 1,300-plus to one optometrist."

Currently seeing more than 15,000 clients yearly and performing more than 500 surgeries, the region now has four refractionists and is preparing to launch a region-wide diabetic retinopathy screening and treatment programme to combat the alarming rates of debilitating eye defects.

However, with the SRHA directly covering the parishes of Manchester, St Elizabeth, and Clarendon, a call is being made for all parishes and community hospitals to move towards retrofitting spaces for eye care.

Minister of Health Horace Dalley, who delivered the keynote address at the opening, said that public-private partnerships are crucial to the growth and development of the health sector as the $55 billion budget cannot manage all that needs to be done.