A group of distinctive individuals joined a virtual webinar discussion on Thursday 20 August to acquire and share insights on how other countries across the Commonwealth can access professional eyecare knowledge.

The ‘See Well, Learn Well, Live Well’ webinar was organised and hosted by Commonwealth Future – a non-party political organisation that promotes cohesion throughout the 54 Commonwealth countries.  The organisation has a 2020 strategy to help its fellow countries access the excellent eye health services available in the UK through education of professionals overseas and creating better eye health awareness with nations’ residents.

Guest speakers for the webinar discussion were two prominent eye health experts – Professor Frank Eperjesi, co-founder and co-director of EyeTools, an online learning and development platform and Professor John Marshall from Kings College London who is also Honorary Professor at Cardiff, City and Glasgow Caledonian Universities.

Both individuals were able to discuss at detail their own eye health insight and experiences across the Commonwealth.  Professor Eperjesi focused on the role of educating the profession and Professor Marshall discussed new correctable vision innovations vision.  Attendees were also invited to ask questions throughout the webinar session.

During the webinar session, Professor Marshall drew on his extensive insight in his capacity of editor and co-editor of numerous international journals. He is a pioneer of laser eye surgery having lectured on every major continent and is the only scientist to be consistently voted into The Ophthalmologist Power List of the most influential people in world of ophthalmology.  Commonwealth Future was extremely honoured to welcome him as a guest speaker on the day.

Professor Eperjesi – who has worked as an optometrist and educator in Commonwealth countries – discussed his vision for EyeTools.  Its purpose is to educate eye specialists in Commonwealth countries by providing learning resources at no or reasonable cost through a series of books and content on the EyeTools professional development platform.

EyeTools launched in March 2020 and has a community of 400 eye specialists, many of those from Commonwealth countries such as Malawi, Zambia, South Africa, Mozambique, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Singapore.

Frank comments: “My overarching impression from my working with eye specialists and educators in these Commonwealth countries is that there is a great thirst for knowledge and understanding. Eye care education is patchy in the Commonwealth and I encourage greater collaboration between those countries that have well developed eye care education programmes to assist those countries where eye care education is less well developed – and in some countries, not developed at all.“

“Eye specialists and educators across the Commonwealth want to get better at what they do. They want to provide the best possible service to their patients and the best possible education to their students.”

“A look at the research literature indicates that there is a prevalence of uncorrected short and long-sightedness in school-aged children and university students ranging from around 3 to 11%. This is in some Commonwealth countries where optical services have yet to be fully developed. The higher figures are from studies of rural schoolchildren.”

“What I find very upsetting about these figures is firstly, that they are similar to those of when I qualified in 1990. Not much has changed in the last 30 years. Secondly, the production cost of a pair of glasses is around $3. That’s the total cost of a frame and two lenses.  This is why debates like these run through Commonwealth Future are invaluable and together, I hope we can all make a positive impact to improve these statistics.”

Officially introducing the website was Dr Zimar Sivardeen, an optometrist and also Chair of Commonwealth Future.  Dr Sivardeen’s opening speech focused on a report by the World Health Organisation that highlighted how more than 2 billion individuals around the world have eye issues or blindness that were either preventable or curable.  It is estimated that 900 million living with visual impairment are in the Commonwealth.

A deficiency in vision is a real challenge and is an area that Commonwealth Future feels very passionate about.  Dr Sivardeen comments: “We all know that a good education enables us to fulfil our potential.  But imagine a world where you couldn’t read because of poor sight and how this would impact your ability to function and succeed in life.  We believe that access to quality eyecare is a right everyone should be entitled to.  We hope that our series of webinar debates with influential individuals and experts across the Commonwealth will open up new ideas and thinking to instigate positive change.”

Dr Sivardeen concludes that the webinar provided inspiration and positive action.  “Lots of interesting debate, ideas and discussion points came from the session that we now look forward to building on as we move forward with our eye health strategy.”

Graham Robertson, International Ambassador for Commonwealth Future, closed the webinar session.