In India, around 456 million people need various types of vision correction and these uncorrected refractive errors accounts for more than 50% of unnecessary vision impairment.
The annual loss in India in terms of productivity & economic burden of avoidable vision impairment is estimated to be over US$ 23 billion*. The optometry industry and profession has contributed significantly in reducing the burden of uncorrected refractive error and common eye diseases, especially through series of ophthalmic assistant optometrists in the hospital system, and in the clinics of the large non-profit institutes in eye care in India. Though previously somewhat fragmented, all of optometry, including ophthalmic assistants and ophthalmic officers who have 10+2 (with major in Science) and 2 years or higher qualifications, have joined together under one body consisting of all their organizations called the Indian Optometry Federation which represents these organizations and the 42,000 optometrists.
Optometry Council of India
Mindful of the need to certify and regulate the competence and standards of optometrists and of optometry schools and colleges; the Indian Optometry Federation and the Association of Schools and Colleges of India together established a private, non-profit, peer regulating body called Optometry Council of India (OCI) in September 2012.
VisionPlus Magazine chats with Ms Lakshmi Shinde – CEO – Optometry Council of India, to know more…
VisionPlus Magazine (VP) : What is the actual definition of an optometrist?
Ms Lakshmi Shinde (LS) : According to the World Council of Optometry (WCO), optometrists are ‘primary healthcare practitioners of the eye and vision system, who can successfully manage the leading cause of vision impairment (refractive error) and can also help alleviate the burden of other causes of blindness through diagnosis, referral and co-management’.
As specialists, optometrists have a pivotal role in detecting potentially serious eye diseases such as cataract, glaucoma and age-related maculopathy, and general health conditions such as hypertension and diabetes, which affect the eye. In a way,‘eye care’ professionals, are a part of ‘health care professionals’ because we are the first point of contact for any eye ailment and in the process of providing optimal eye care we also detect systemic conditions such as hypertention and diabetes.
VP : How does one become an optometrist?
LS : To become an optometrist, one should:
- Finish class 12 with a major in ‘science’ subjects
- Pursue graduation (4 years) in optometry from any of the recognized educational institutions
VP : What is Optometry Council of India (OCI)?
LS : OCI has been registered under Section 25A of The Companies Act, 1956 (a non-profit company). This organization has been formed with the help of Indian Optometry Federation (IOF) and Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO). This organization was set up in September 2012 and since its inception, has grown tremendously in terms of popularity amongst ophthalmologists/optometrists in India.
VP : Can the OCI be called an ‘association’?
LS : No, it is not an association. However, individual practitioners (optometrists) and graduates who pass from school under recognized universities and other diploma courses can register with OCI. Basically, OCI will maintain a ‘live’ register for optometrists all over the country.
VP : Since OCI is registered under the The Companies Act, does an optometrist need to buy shares in the company or would shares be sold to optometrist?
LS : The Optometry council of India is a non-profit company, whose shares can neither be bought nor sold and will be governed by the company law (Government of India) for a ‘not for profit company’.
VP : Why is OCI registered as a non-profit company and not a society?
LS : Some of the reasons why we found it useful to register our organization as a non-profit company were :
- A company is answerable and accountable more than a society to the government of India or any other such state and federal authorities; that our organization may be required to report from time to time. Being an organization subject to the Indian tax laws, which will collect fee from individual optometrists who want to be assessed and certified as well as from schools that want to be certified, we thought that that it would be best for the organization be registered under Section 25A of The Companies Act.
- The accounts of a company are audited and submitted at more regular intervals than a society. This would ensure better running of the organization and accountability to the profession and the followers of the Organization.
- In a society there need to be elections and general body meetings held on a regular basis. Since the OCI will not have individual members, but is an organization that certifies individuals, it was recommended that OCI be registered under Company Act.
- Even if the council had optometrist as members, then the annual general body over the years would mean that the optometrists all around the nation have to meet which is impossible.
VP : Who are the board members of OCI?
LS : It has a nine member board consisting of :
- Three members from Indian Optometry Federation (IOF)
- Three members from Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO)
- A representative from a non-government organization, who is active in eye care sector
- A member involved with experience in community health programs
- An active member from the health-care sector of good standing
VP : What is the vision and mission of OCI?
LS : The vision and mission of OCI has been broadly defined as follows :
Assuring excellence in optometry education & equitable eye care for India.
The Optometry Council of India is a professional regulatory body with the responsibility of establishing and maintaining high standards of optometry education & recognition of optometry qualifications in India. It registers optometrists in order to maintain quality, and provide equitable and accountable eye care services for the people of India.
VP : What benefits does OCI offer to optometrists, students and the general public?
LS : The public would benefit from :
- Quality eye care in time to come, as all registered optometrists will be given a certificate saying they are registered under OCI
- Ensure delivery of quality education in optometry colleges
- Provide adequate optometry work force
- Develop skilled optometry work force
The profession would benefit form :
- Preparation a live register of optometrists all around the country so that it can be tabled with the government
- Setting uniform standards in the profession
- Regulating the professional standards of both education and practise
- Enhancing placement opportunities for registered optometrists
The students would benefit from :
- Accreditation of colleges
- Maintenance of standards in education
- Monitoring of quality of education
VP : What are the key activities of OCI?
LS : The key activities of OCI shall be :
- Registering all optometrist in India and being inclusive in its approach. This means registering private sector, public sector, two year diplomas and four year graduates.
- Accrediting Continuing Education (CE) programs and credits that would be associated with a CE program. Certain number of CE credits will be required to renew their registration with OCI every 3 years. Therefore OCI is in the process of releasing a document that outlines the needs and the avenues through which the specified number of CE credits can be accumulated by an optometrists.
- Improving public awareness about eye care among the public
- Public awareness about standards in optometry
- OCI will also be accrediting optometry courses that are being run. Accreditation will be only for graduate courses as diplomas will be upgraded to graduate courses in few years to come.
VP : What are the current activities of OCI?
LS : Currently OCI has two key roles :
- Register optometry practitioners in India
- Accredit the schools and colleges of optometry
VP : If government collaborates with the council, what would be the status of OCI, and the people who have registered with OCI?
LS : Optometry Council of India is a self-regulatory body for optometrists. As optometrists, we need to unite and be self – regulated. This would enable the government support the activities and recognize the profession of optometry. In the Memorandum of Association of Optometry Council of India, the following has been mentioned :
Clause No: 24
To liaise with the Government of India and its ministries and officials, to seek recognition for a statutory body, preferably by the name of Optometry Council of India and to work towards constituting a statutory body with the aims, objectives and functions of the Company.
OCI will lobby with the government in forming a council for optometry and for optometry to be an independent profession. The above statement in the MOA means: once the government forms a statutory body, such as a council for optometry, OCI will cease to exist and will be handed over to the government.
VP : How many registrants do you have as of now?
LS : OCI has had 359 applications of which 335 have been registered and certificates have been sent. I think it’s a great achievement, considering we started registering just 3 months ago. We are proud to say that we have registered members such as Padmashree Vipin Buckshey and other prominent optometrists on our register. I would also like to add that optometrists of the famous chain Lawrence & Mayo are under the process of registering themselves. Industry professionals from Essilor and other contact lens companies are also registering. We have received a good response from the private sector as well as the public sector. In fact, we have received applications from overseas as well.
VP : Do you charge for registration and do the registrants need to renew their registration?
LS : We charge 1,500 rupees per registration for a period of three years. However, this registration fee is applicable only for this year as an inaugural offer. In 2015 we will be revising the registration fee as per the board decision. The renewal process will be accepted if they are able to meet the number of credit points accumulated over three years by participating in continuing education of various types. OCI is in the process of drafting the document for the same and will soon publish it.
VP : What does the registration process involve and what do they receive?
LS : The registration process is available both online and offline. Our website is www.optometrycouncilofindia.org and applicants can write to us at email@example.com.
They must have their HSC certificate, one scanned passport photo, the certificate of optometry from where they did the course and any post graduation certificates as well. All these documents will be verified by OCI. Once verification process is complete the applicant receives a certificate of registration with the registration number and validity date.
VP : How do you plan on developing OCI further?
LS : We have a lot of plans. This is just the beginning! The website is undergoing a lot of development at this stage. We are moving slowly regards creating a database. We are planning to have a tool called ‘practice locator’ on our website. This will help public and also optometry colleagues to track practices with registered optometrist in a certain area or locality. These practices will also carry a sign board that says the optometrist is registered under the self regulatory council. Optometrist will be happy to know that the website as of now has been accessed by 10 countries including USA, Netherlands, Indonesia etc. This has been very encouraging for us.
Following this, we are also planning to accredit schools and colleges of optometry. For this purpose we will have dialogues with UGC and other educational bodies. The positive part is that some schools have already shown interest in being part of the accreditation process even before we have launched it.
VP : Thank you Ms Lakshmi for your time. This is a very positive sign for the Indian optometrists, and we wish you all the success in the future.
For more information regarding IOF, click here
For information about ASCO, click here*Reference : Smith T, Frick K, Holden B, Fricke T, Naidoo K. Potential lost productivity resulting from the global burden of uncorrected refractive error. Bull World Health Organ.. Vol 87: WHO: 2009