Rwanda like most countries in Africa relies heavily on midlevel health workers to deliver eye care to its population. Mid-level health eye personnel include ophthalmic technicians, ophthalmic clinical officers, and ophthalmic nurses and so on. They can, and do, perform some of the functions of the more traditional health professionals with specialist qualifications, with the advantages of lower entry educational qualifications and a shorter period of training than ophthalmologists. Also, this cadre can be more readily deployed across remote areas to provide accessible and much needed care. By managing minor eye conditions, referring appropriately and assisting more specialist doctors, they help lower the costs of health care.
However these workers are often difficult to define as different training programmes in different countries or sometimes even within the same country use different tittles for them, have no defined roles or job descriptions and have different training lengths ranging from one year to three years.
The International Council of Ophthalmology (ICO) and the Joint Commission Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO) set standards for ophthalmic specialists and mid level eye workers worldwide and ensure they trained consistently within an appropriate timeframe. JCAHPO has developed certification examinations in a stepwise manner to allow standardisation and certification of mid level ophthalmic personnel. JCAHPO’s certification for ophthalmic medical personnel is the recognized international training model for the profession and certification of Ophthalmic Assistants, Ophthalmic Technicians, and Ophthalmic Medical Technologists. JCAHPO certification is recognized and respected internationally by physicians, employers, administrators, and other ophthalmic and medical personnel.
The Rwanda International Institute of Ophthalmology (RIIO) a local NGO was accepted by JCAHPO as a centre to offer the JCAHPO certification examinations. Over the last 8 months RIIO with funding from World Sight Foundation has been tutoring 8 Rwandan Ophthalmic Technicians who are former graduates of the University of Rwanda, in order to prepare them for the international examination. On August 20th 2013 the President of JCAHPO arrived in Rwanda to personally supervise the examinations. The 8 students sat the exams at the RIIO lecture rooms which are currently hosted at Dr Agarwal’s Eye Hospital. The students received their results on 14th September 2013. They all passed the Certified Ophthalmic Assistant (COA) with extremely high marks and became the first ophthalmic technicians certified by JCAHPO in this region.
In August 2015 RIIO with funding from the World Sight Foundation registered the same eight students sat for the second stage of examinations the Certified Ophthalmic Technicians (COT) and 7 were successful. An additional 4 students sat the COA examination and they all passed
Certified ophthalmic medical personnel bring important benefits to their patients, their employers, and themselves:
- Because of their special training and skills, certified personnel have demonstrated more knowledge and confidence, enabling them to provide better patient care.
- Certified personnel are trained to perform many skilled tasks, freeing up ophthalmologists to diagnose and treat patients to make their ophthalmic practices more productive.
- Certification opens the door to greater professional advancement, career satisfaction, increased employability, and higher compensation where applicable.
– Dr Ciku Mathenge MD, PhD; Director of Training and Research, RIIO/Dr Agarwal’s Eye Hospital