Think about this: The number of spectacle and contact lens wearers should be three times what it is in South Africa today.

According to The Vision Council of America, sixty-one percent of the American population wears some form of vision correction. In contrast, the South African situation is vastly different. SA Statistics reported after the 2012 census, that only 14,6 % of South Africans wear some form of vision correction. This statistic has been confirmed over the years by three other reputable sources. It is hard to come to terms with this number, knowing that the global incidence of refractive error is reportedly well over fifty percent. Something is amiss. Yes, we are comparing first-world with third-world statistics, but even so, the number of people wearing a visual correction in South Africa seems desperately low. Our population was estimated to be sixty million in 2022.  According to the statistics, approximately nine million wear a vision correction, whereas one could argue that this number should be in the region of thirty million.

The main concern is that such a small portion of our population enjoys the benefits of a comprehensive visual examination to rule out ocular pathology and visual disorders. As optometrists, we are well-versed in the dangers of asymptomatic, undetected ocular disease. Every single citizen should have a routine eye examination. Moreover, employment depends on education which depends on good functional vision.

Diabetes alone has some staggering statistics:

To quote Dr. Larry Distiller, founder and managing director of the Centre for Diabetes and Endocrinology: “The diabetes tsunami is here and we in South Africa are in trouble. Three-and-a-half million South Africans (about 6% of the population) suffer from diabetes and there are many more who are undiagnosed,” he cautions. It is estimated that another five million South Africans have pre-diabetes, a condition where insulin resistance causes blood glucose levels to be higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be type 2 diabetes. Optometry has a vital role to play in the diagnosis of diabetes.

There is a lesson to be learned from the American programme; “Think about your eyes”, which was launched jointly by The Vision Council of America and The American Optometric Association. This public awareness campaign across America has produced some spectacular results. In 2017, it generated 3 400 000 incremental eye examinations for optometrists who had signed up for the programme and are listed on the “optometrist locater”. It produced $752 000 000 additional eyewear and eye exam revenue.

In a Vision Online survey, it was revealed that there is a staggering number of empty chair slots in optometric practices across South Africa. The capacity is there, but somehow we can’t get patients into the chairs.

Because so many of the potential visual problems “don’t hurt”, nothing is driving these people to the optometrist’s door, especially when this mass of the population is embodied in ignorance. What is required is education and awareness of the dangers of undetected ocular disease and visual disorders, but on a massive scale.

There are 3740 optometrists registered with the HPCSA. However, to illustrate the point by way of an example, if only 3000 optometrists put R300 per month into the pot, it can generate a handsome R10 800 000 per year. This would be a meaningful budget to launch a national digital educational programme. In addition, there must be scope for advocacy by joining forces with the government and NGOs.

The numbers tell us that something is radically wrong, but surely it must be possible to remedy the situation or at least improve it. Imagine if the number of 14,6% can be doubled! This is what we can do with the Value Your Eyes campaign.

Value Your Eyes is an advocacy that will launch soon. It will have the sole objective of increasing our eye care market by demystifying visual disorders and ocular disease and promoting eye examinations. This can be achieved by collectively supporting a digital marketing campaign that will reach millions of South Africans. 

 

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