165,000 Jamaicans to One Optometrist – Worst in English Speaking CARICOM

Is someone blocking the registration of Optometrists in Jamaica? Why are new applicants having so much difficulty getting registered?

Mr. Arvel Grant, CEO (CCB-Eye Care Caribbean)My name is Arvel Grant. I am the Chief Executive Officer of the Caribbean Council for the Blind (CCB-Eye Care Caribbean). I was born in Black River, St. Elizabeth, and thanks to the Government and people of Jamaica, I was educated at an all age school in the high-lands of Westmoreland, The Salvation Army school for the Blind in Kingston and the University of the West Indies (Mona campus), where my studies included a Master of Public Health from the Faculty of Medical Sciences.

Over the past 30 years, I have been privileged to contribute to the development of eye health services: in Jamaica, across the Caribbean and on five continents. My own visual impairment, my training in Public Health and my development experience around the world, have given me an unapologetic determination to help all of Jamaica claim and preserve their Right to Sight. The Council is a key partner in the transformation of eye health services in the Southern Region of Jamaica., we want to do likewise in the three other health regions.



Global estimates suggests that up to 80 percent of blindness is preventable, today, there are approximately 27,000 Jamaicans who are blind.

If those estimates are correct, more than 20,000 of them did not have to lose their sight. We believe that a further 81,000 Jamaicans are almost blind from: Cataract, Glaucoma and Diabetes. Given the grave shortage of optometrists in Jamaica (required to screen and refer persons at risk for treatment) it is only a matter of time, before they too become blind. This crisis will continue as long as Jamaica has such a poor ratio of Optometrists to population.

Jamaica needs a ratio of around 1 Optometrists to ten thousand residents in order to have a strong primary eye care service. The present ratio is 165 thousand Jamaicans to 1 Optometrists. We believe that the extreme shortage of optometrists is the result of artificial barriers preventing new entries to the trade. Jamaican and other Optometrists trained in CARICOM (UWI and University of Guyana) are being registered to practice across the Caribbean. At the same time, those same Jamaican graduates are experiencing extreme difficulties accessing the registration process, in their own country.

We are keen to point out that, this state of affairs pre-dates the current administration. We urge the Minister of Health and his senior officials, to take a keen interest in the removal of any artificial barriers which may be preventing the registration of optometrists trained in universities recognized by the Government and or the World Council of Optometry.

• We do not believe that it is necessary to amend Jamaica’s Opticians Act, in order to register optometrists, trained in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

• We believe that the Opticians Act Sections 3 and 8(b) or 8(c) and Schedule 1 of the Caribbean (Free Movement of Skilled Persons) Act- Operational date: July 15, 1997-Legal area: Caribbean Community (CARICOM) allows for the registration of Optometrists trained in universities recognized by the Government of Jamaica. Based on the act, these include UWI and the University of Guyana.
Ref: Moj.gov.jm.files.laws.CCFmspAct

• Both optometry-training programmes are listed-recognized by the World Council Of Optometry.



Anecdotal reports are that before new Optometrists can be registered, he or she must receive clearance from the private trade– in Jamaica? The country which pioneered establishment of Fair Trading Commission in the Caribbean?

If that is the case, the practice seems to have left Jamaica with one of the worst ratio of registered Optometrists to population in the English speaking Caribbean and wider Commonwealth. Even though qualified optometrists are experiencing grave difficulties getting registered in Jamaica.

(See crude table below showing Jamaica at “the bottom of the heap)

• In order to achieve a ratio similar to Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica needs to train and register at least 300 Optometrists over the next 10 to 15 years. CCB-Eye Care Caribbean and its international partners are preparing plans to support establishment of (at least two Optometry training programmes in Jamaica, assuming removal of any artificial barriers to the registration of Optometrists. Two training programmes, graduating 15 Optometrists each year, will get us there.

• The optometry training programmes in Trinidad & Guyana have changed access to eye health services fundamentally and for the better. We intend to do likewise in Jamaica.

• Qualification to practice Optometry in UK is four years not eight.

• Optometrists are primary eye care providers, not Medical Doctors or Ophthalmologists.

• That is why authorities in the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries (including most of the Caribbean) register their optometrists based on 4 years of training.

• There appears to be an effort by certain interest to have the authorities (in Jamaica) require up to eight years of training so that Optometrists can offer medical and surgical services. If true, that is an extremely dangerous scheme. The majority of Jamaicans will not be able to know the difference between Optometrists and Ophthalmologists.

• About as absurd as allowing psychologists to join psychiatrists in using medical and surgical procedures to treat mental illness?

Across the Caribbean and wider Commonwealth, Optometrists are trained to: correct refractive errors using eye glasses and or contact lens; while referring persons requiring medical and or surgical services to Ophthalmologists.

It is important to note, that because Optometrists are primary eye care providers (not Medical Doctors or Ophthalmologists) the cost involved in requiring training programmes greater than 3-4 years is unsustainable and wasteful of scarce financial resource. This would only make the current (chronic) shortage of optometrist worst, leading to even higher levels of avoidable blindness.



• I doubt that Medical Doctors need clearance from an association, before they can be registered? I cannot imagine that registered nurses require clearance from an association as a prerequisite to registration?

• If Applicants for registration to practice Optometry need to receive clearance from any part of the private sector, as a prerequisite to be registered, the “Old boys club is very much in charge.”

• This claim should be investigated and discontinued, if found to be true.

• Further, I urge the ministry of health to undertake an independent review of the files of persons who have applied to be registered to practice Optometry in Jamaica, in the event that suitably qualified persons have been denied access to practice.

• Finally, placing the examination and wider registration of Optometrists in Jamaica. at the disposal of a process influenced by private interest is “pregnant” with opportunities for successful litigation and full of occasions for political excitement. Furthermore, blindness is an extremely high price for citizens and residents in any society to pay in order to preserve the business interests of a few. Those who exact such extreme pain and suffering on an entire population, must be prepared to contemplate judicial penalties for their actions.

Ultimately, it is the duty of our government to protect citizens from unnecessary blindness. A ratio of 165 thousand Jamaicans to 1 optometrists (17 registered optometrists to 2.8 million people) is a major contributor to a crisis of avoidable blindness. We therefore call on the Minister, the Prime Minister and Parliament to develop and exercise a keen interest in the resolution of this state of affairs. Blocking entry of new optometrists to the trade must be discouraged.

Prevention of avoidable blindness and the restoration of sight is every body’s business. As head of an international organization which has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to the development of eye health services in Jamaica, I am ready and available to meet with officials at any level of Government to help clear a part to the prompt registration of Optometrists trained in universities recognized by Government and or the World Council of Optometry – Including UWI and the University of Guyana.

Existing statute is sufficient to achieve this.

Please share this with family, friends and associates. #righttosightJA

Mr. Arvel Grant
Chief Executive Officer
(CCB-Eye Care Caribbean)

E-mail: righttosightja@ccb1967.com


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