The primary role of the Asia Optometry Congress (AOC) is to promote optometry profession development in the Asian region.
Immediate past president of Asia Optometry Congress (AOC) Dr Tan Kah Ooi said: “The predecessor of AOC, ASEAN Optometric Conference, was established and held in Malaysia in 2007, and it was a local event for a couple of years until the 5th ASEAN Optometric Conference was organised by the Singapore Optometric Association (SOA) in 2014. That was the year with a discussion about expanding the ASEAN Optometric Conference to Asia Optometric Congress (AOC) to include more countries in Asia.
“It was during the 1st Asia Optometric Congress (and 6th ASEAN Optometric Conference) held in Manila, Philippines, in 2016 that more members from Asian countries, such as Korea, India and China, joined. We also had the first general delegates meeting that year.
“AOC is a not-for-profit professional organisation, a platform where we bring together members and associations in the Asian region to leverage on their capabilities to help each other to build and promote the optometry profession.”
Dr Tan graduated from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) and worked as a lecturer for a year before pursuing postgraduate studies in Australia. He has worked in different management and commercial positions in the optical industry companies for Greater China and Asia-Pacific region.
“It was during this time when I started to get more involved with professional organisations in the Asian region.”
Dr Tan served as the president of AOC from 2016 to 2020.
Asian optometry industry landscape
According to Dr Tan, the education, legislative, and scope of practice are three key components to strengthening the eye care service delivery in the Asian region. As such, AOC focuses on these components in its efforts to standardise and improve the Asian optometry services.
He said the optometry development and standards varied between Asian countries. “If you look at the optometry services and profession in Asia, it is heterogeneous and varies from country to country.
“For example, the Philippines was the first country in Asia which established an optometry legislation system and Malaysia and Singapore followed suit around the 1980s and 1990s, with India recently in 2021.
“But if you look at Asia in general, the optometry profession is relatively new, where we only see the emergence of the profession
and services in the past five or 10 years.”
Dr Tan said that there are countries such as Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar where optometry profession is still in the embryonic stage of development. Countries with established optometry professions would be able to support the development of the optometry profession in these emerging countries.
Optometry education in Asia
Education and training programs are key in promoting optometry services. It produces optometrists with a structured role in primary eye care to support other health professionals, as well as to enhance their skills and provide accurate and efficient service to the public.
“For example, the ophthalmologist provides secondary and tertiary care on treatment of eye diseases and surgeries. The optometrist, meanwhile, provides primary eye care on vision and visual function-related issues and co-manages patients with stable eye diseases.
“Countries with established optometry education systems such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, India, China, Korea, Thailand and Vietnam have structured and systemic optometry education and training in higher education institutions, with some leading to masters and postgraduate level.
“Vietnam started its school of optometry in the past few years. However, India, China and Korea are currently emerging with more schools and colleges of optometry.”
He continued: “While we can see the momentum in the Asian region, there are a few challenges regarding optometry education and training.
“Firstly, there aren’t enough teaching faculties to provide adequate training locally in certain countries. Next, there is no consistency between countries in the education and training framework, and the need to establishing a legislation system to have a proper recognition of the optometry profession.”
Dr Tan believes that cooperation between Asian countries under the AOC platform will help to solve the issues. AOC can harness the capabilities and skills in the region and help support and promote the optometry profession and services in countries that require significant development.
“AOC can help enhance and enrich countries with limited infrastructure and local government support, bringing them up to the required standards – in education, the scope of practice and legislation – a holistic model that aims to provide adequate vision care services to the public. One step at a time!”– AOC