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MD. ZAKARIA MIDYAOPTOMETRIST | EDUCATOR | ANALYST, FOUNDER & CEO AT OPTOGRAPHY
India battles an acute shortage of Optometrists in rural areas. To better understand the factors affecting the decision of Optometry students to work in rural areas after graduation, the Optography Research Team conducted a Survey for research purpose in the Indian scenario. The aim of the survey was to create awareness about Optometry practice in rural areas as blindness and vision impairment continue to be significant public health problems in India. 285 million people are estimated to be visually impaired across the globe, of whom, 39 million are blind and 246 million living with low vision.
The burden of visual impairment in India is estimated at 62 million; of these, 54 million persons have low vision, and 8 million are blind. In 2019, the rural population (% of the total population) in India was reported at 65.53%, according to the World Bank collection of development indicators, compiled from officially recognised sources.
There are a few strategies that may overcome the visual issues in rural areas if the following is aggressively incorporated:
This research was based on a cross-sectional survey of undergraduate Optometry students in India’s eastern, western, southern, and northern zones. All undergraduate Optometry students (1st to 4th year) who volunteered to participate in the study were included. The research was carried out in Indian Optometry institutions in all four zones. Undergraduate Optometry programmes were available at each of the universities. The study was conducted between April-July in 2021 with 484 participants.
This study included clustered-sampling methods to collect the data by adopting a validated questionnaire previously used in a related study abroad. The questionnaire was modified according to the Indian scenario and presented as a Google form questionnaire to be delivered electronically in all zones of Optometry institutions that agreed to participate in this study.
Inclusion criteria: It included only undergraduate Optometry students who agreed to participate in this study.
Exclusion criteria: It excluded postgraduates, pass-out students or practitioners.
The data was captured and analysed with the Statistical Programme of Social Sciences (SPSS) version 21. Descriptive statistics were used to analyse values such as frequencies, mean, standard deviation, cross-tabulation, and percentage of collected data.
Chisquare tests were used to analyse the association between relevant variables. A p-value of <0.05 was considered statistically significant.
The main reasons behind the unwillingness of the students to work in rural areas include financial concerns, personal safety, poor living conditions, exposure to more optometric practice, and even language barriers. The study shows that typically, the motivating factors that may encourage the students to work in rural areas include a good salary package, proximity to home, extra incentives etc.
To conclude, this research has shown that Indian Optometry students from rural backgrounds are more inclined to return and practice in rural areas.
A few students in urban areas have a desire to practice in rural areas after graduation, and a few optometry students, irrespective of their background, may opt to work in rural areas for NGOs or the Government after their training.
There is an urgent requirement in government offices and NGOs (involved in eye care health activities). With the help of necessary incentives and policy measures on monitoring and evaluation, those who are posted in rural areas shall not prematurely vacate the Optometrist post in rural areas. Rather, they will commit to improving the access to quality eyecare with the view of eliminating avoidable blindness in rural areas. This will also motivate the rural communities for their eye care health and its associated ocular causes or conditions as well as systemic consequences related to eye problems.
(More references can be provided on request.)
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