The enthusiasm of 30 Zambian newly-qualified optometrists is hard to match – not just in their passion for optometry, but also through the energy they brought to the second Zambian Optometry Conference (ZOC), which certainly bodes well for the future of optometry in Zambia.
Hosted by Vision Aid Overseas (VAO), and supported through funding from Specsavers and Optometry Giving Sight, the three-day conference covered a variety of optometry and public health topics, with interactive sessions and workshops complementing a lecture programme that was delivered by international and local speakers.
VAO deputy team leader, Mark Esbester, who also attended the conference last year, said: “After the success of the first ZOC in 2015, it was an easy decision to sign up for the second one.”
The extensive education programme explored a variety of clinical topics, with one much-discussed session delivered by the deputy head of optometry at Anglia Ruskin University, Ebi Osuobeni.
Mr Osuobeni spoke about the graphical analysis of binocular vision problems and showed that there are always new approaches to optometry. The lecture proved so popular that he ran a follow-up session later during the conference.
Mr Osuobeni commented: “I agreed to speak at the conference because I believe I can make positive contributions to upscaling the clinical skills and optometric knowledge of Zambian optometrists. I also felt that I could be a positive role model to colleagues in Zambia as to what is possible to achieve in life and in our profession irrespective of our background and country of birth.”
Also featuring in the programme were lectures from Zambian ophthalmologists, Dr Elijah Mutoloki and Dr Willard Mumbi, who were on hand to provide delegates with a wider eye health perspective and give valuable insight into integrated public eye care delivery in Zambia.
Dr Mutoloki, who has worked in Kasama and studied at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, used his local knowledge, combined with public health skills, to raise awareness of the impact of optometry in a wider setting. Dr Mumbi, who works in Kabwe in central Zambia, took to the stage to explain the risk factors, investigation, diagnosis and treatment of acute retinal necrosis using case studies.
Past-president of the South African Optometric Association, Dr Nina Kriel, delivered a lecture to tackle ocular injuries and on how to manage them even when a practitioner is miles from the nearest hospital. Speaking about the conference from both a speaker and delegate perspective, Dr Kriel said: “I love interacting with colleagues all over the world and hearing about the differences and (more often) the commonalities. I hope that the experiences I shared [during my talk] will encourage practitioners to expand their services, becoming ever-more-valuable members of the healthcare professions in Zambia.”
"It was just great getting delegates up out of their seats and seeing them use their creativity and teamwork skills in a fun and casual setting"
Offering practitioners new skills, dispensing optician, Lee Davis, shared techniques for prescribing low vision devices and expanding rehabilitation skills with delegates. The simulation specs that she brought proved very popular with delegates by allowing them to experience the effects of cataract, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration.
Optometrist, Monica Pun, flew to Zambia from Sydney, Australia, to share her knowledge of diabetic retinopathy and patient care, which she gained when working at Homerton Hospital, London. She also shared her experience in leadership in a clinical environment, incorporating a scavenger hunt for the delegates, and caught delegates’ attention using synced dance routines to spark enthusiasm.
She said: “It was just great getting delegates up out of their seats and seeing them use their creativity and teamwork skills in a fun and casual setting. A memorable moment for me was when Lucky, a very humble yet enthusiastic delegate, approached me at the end of my leadership presentation. He said he was left feeling very inspired about his career choice, despite his doubt in the last few months.”
Education with a difference
Complementing the lecture programme, delegates had the opportunity to take part in online CPD using Synapse – a system that will aid Zambian optometrists in their ongoing education after qualification, especially when working in remote areas and provincial hospitals.
Delegates also took part in a peer review which, while now familiar to UK optometrists, is still a lesser-known educational format to their Zambian counterparts.
Anonymised eye health cases from Southern Zambia provided authentic and relevant issues for group discussions on the diagnosis, management and treatment of both common and more unusual eye conditions.
The education continued even after the conference officially closed, with a clinical day held at the Dame Mary Perkins building at Chainama College the following day. The event was designed to provide practitioners with practical refreshers in low vision, refraction and slit lamp biomicroscopy.
The conference has received much positive feedback from delegates and speakers alike, with attendee Esnart Kapatamoyo commenting: “It was a great pleasure to attend the lectures, which were inspiring for many upcoming optometrists like me. I can't wait to have [my colleagues] back in Zambia again soon and I’m really looking forward to the next conference.”
Harriet Mkandawire, optometry graduate and part-time assistant for VAO activities in Zambia, added: “We are grateful for the continued learning experience and guidance which has made it easy for us in our day-to-day activities in our practices. We did enjoy and learn a lot as well.”
VAO team leader Caroline Clarke, who spoke at the conference, said: “It was a privilege to participate in the second ZOC. The enthusiasm and commitment from the delegates was heartwarming. They deserve every success for the future as they strive to promote this fledgling profession within Zambia's medical and optical eye services.”
Speaking after the conference closed, programme director for VAO, Karen Edwards emphasised: “The conference was a great success and it was wonderful to see their thirst for learning and how enthusiastic the graduates were to improve their knowledge and skills. I think some long term friendships and mentoring will grow as a result.”
For more information about VAO and about becoming a professional volunteer, visit the VAO website.