To say that Dr Kovin Naidoo, the director of the African office of the International Centre for Eyecare Education (ICEE), gained his optometric qualifications the hard way would be something of an understatement.
Dr Naidoo, aged 37, followed a long and at times tortuous path to qualify, due to a largely enforced form of 'distance learning' as a result of his imprisonment by the apartheid regime in June 1988.
And the crimes he had committed? Well, it was for the relatively tame offence of being president of Durban-Westville University Student Union and a prominent activist in demonstrations against the de Klerk government.
'After my arrest in 1988 I was kept in solitary confinement for eight months. At first I was held in a police station and then transferred to Westville Prison. Basically, I was arrested for leading the student protests against apartheid in Durban.
'It was very difficult to study as they only gave me my books very close to the exams. It was also hard, of course, to concentrate after a day of interrogation,' Dr Naidoo recalls.
Today, operating out of the ICEE's African HQ, based at his Alma Mater, his work involves a lot of travel, both in Africa and the rest of world; but what does he see as his major tasks? 'ICEE's mission is to eliminate avoidable blindness due to uncorrected refractive error by developing sustainable solutions for disadvantaged communities in serious need of eye care.'

Access to services
The African office aims to promote access to these refractive services. His main task is to network with governments, non-governmental and development organisations, hospitals and clinics to establish opportunities for training personnel, develop appropriate programmes and ensure their efficient delivery.
'My role is the easy bit really,' he says modestly. 'The delivery of these programmes occurs due to a dedicated group of optometrists and administrators. They are the real driving force behind the ICEE in Africa, working long hours, well beyond the call of duty, and are really driven to eradicate unnecessary blindness.'
Problems with funding are obviously the major obstacle in the African continent for groups such as ICEE, but optician asked whether the organisation found it difficult to obtain aid from Western governments and pharmaceutical companies.
'The most important issue for us is the availability of human resources and the necessary infrastructure to provide eye care services,' Dr Naidoo points out.

Competing interests
There are many competing interests for limited healthcare budgets, in particular from HIV. As a result, blindness prevention suffers. That said, there have been significant donations from pharmaceutical companies, such as Merck and its product Mectizan.
'However, there needs to be more than a donation approach,' he says. 'That may be OK for short-term relief, but for sustainable solutions the pharmaceutical companies need to ensure that the cost of drugs are reduced and that the restrictions on the use of generics are lifted.'
Eye care in Africa, like all healthcare issues is beset by countless problems. These range from the political, whereby internal tensions result in the breakdown of services, to the economic, when food and survival is the priority, rather than the setting up of eye clinics.
'Educational problems also result in few training institutions and limited human resources for blindness prevention. Also, there are cultural barriers, whereby men often consider that the need for women to get an eye examination is unnecessary as they don't work outside the home.
'And, of course, there is always the traditional faith in the local healers for healthcare in general. This results in patients coming to eye clinics after having gone through traditional treatments.'

seeking unique solutions
'I believe it is critical that ÒuniqueÓ solutions to the prevention of blindness are formulated which take into consideration local dynamics, such as the traditional methods,' continues Dr Naidoo.
African countries are far off the targets that are needed for effective blindness prevention. Those with a significant number of ophthalmologists and optometrists, such as South Africa and Nigeria, are also beset with problems. Even in these countries most of the services are provided in the private sector, so this has resulted in internal disparities in terms of access to eye care, Dr Naidoo states.
So what is needed to develop new models for eye care delivery? 'The current approach of different ÒcadresÓ of eye care working independently is not ensuring the maximum output from our limited human resources,' he says. 'It is critical that an integrated approach is developed, whereby ophthalmic nurses, optometrists and ophthalmologists complement each other's roles and ensure the maximum utilisation of scarce resources.'To say that Dr Kovin Naidoo, the director of the African office of the International Centre for Eyecare Education (ICEE), gained his optometric qualifications the hard way would be something of an understatement.
Dr Naidoo, aged 37, followed a long and at times tortuous path to qualify, due to a largely enforced form of 'distance learning' as a result of his imprisonment by the apartheid regime in June 1988.
And the crimes he had committed? Well, it was for the relatively tame offence of being president of Durban-Westville University Student Union and a prominent activist in demonstrations against the de Klerk government.
'After my arrest in 1988 I was kept in solitary confinement for eight months. At first I was held in a police station and then transferred to Westville Prison. Basically, I was arrested for leading the student protests against apartheid in Durban.
'It was very difficult to study as they only gave me my books very close to the exams. It was also hard, of course, to concentrate after a day of interrogation,' Dr Naidoo recalls.
Today, operating out of the ICEE's African HQ, based at his Alma Mater, his work involves a lot of travel, both in Africa and the rest of world; but what does he see as his major tasks? 'ICEE's mission is to eliminate avoidable blindness due to uncorrected refractive error by developing sustainable solutions for disadvantaged communities in serious need of eye care.'

Access to services
The African office aims to promote access to these refractive services. His main task is to network with governments, non-governmental and development organisations, hospitals and clinics to establish opportunities for training personnel, develop appropriate programmes and ensure their efficient delivery.
'My role is the easy bit really,' he says modestly. 'The delivery of these programmes occurs due to a dedicated group of optometrists and administrators. They are the real driving force behind the ICEE in Africa, working long hours, well beyond the call of duty, and are really driven to eradicate unnecessary blindness.'
Problems with funding are obviously the major obstacle in the African continent for groups such as ICEE, but optician asked whether the organisation found it difficult to obtain aid from Western governments and pharmaceutical companies.
'The most important issue for us is the availability of human resources and the necessary infrastructure to provide eye care services,' Dr Naidoo points out.

Competing interests
There are many competing interests for limited healthcare budgets, in particular from HIV. As a result, blindness prevention suffers. That said, there have been significant donations from pharmaceutical companies, such as Merck and its product Mectizan.
'However, there needs to be more than a donation approach,' he says. 'That may be OK for short-term relief, but for sustainable solutions the pharmaceutical companies need to ensure that the cost of drugs are reduced and that the restrictions on the use of generics are lifted.'
Eye care in Africa, like all healthcare issues is beset by countless problems. These range from the political, whereby internal tensions result in the breakdown of services, to the economic, when food and survival is the priority, rather than the setting up of eye clinics.
'Educational problems also result in few training institutions and limited human resources for blindness prevention. Also, there are cultural barriers, whereby men often consider that the need for women to get an eye examination is unnecessary as they don't work outside the home.
'And, of course, there is always the traditional faith in the local healers for healthcare in general. This results in patients coming to eye clinics after having gone through traditional treatments.'

seeking unique solutions
'I believe it is critical that ÒuniqueÓ solutions to the prevention of blindness are formulated which take into consideration local dynamics, such as the traditional methods,' continues Dr Naidoo.
African countries are far off the targets that are needed for effective blindness prevention. Those with a significant number of ophthalmologists and optometrists, such as South Africa and Nigeria, are also beset with problems. Even in these countries most of the services are provided in the private sector, so this has resulted in internal disparities in terms of access to eye care, Dr Naidoo states.
So what is needed to develop new models for eye care delivery? 'The current approach of different ÒcadresÓ of eye care working independently is not ensuring the maximum output from our limited human resources,' he says. 'It is critical that an integrated approach is developed, whereby ophthalmic nurses, optometrists and ophthalmologists complement each other's roles and ensure the maximum utilisation of scarce resources.'To say that Dr Kovin Naidoo, the director of the African office of the International Centre for Eyecare Education (ICEE), gained his optometric qualifications the hard way would be something of an understatement.
Dr Naidoo, aged 37, followed a long and at times tortuous path to qualify, due to a largely enforced form of 'distance learning' as a result of his imprisonment by the apartheid regime in June 1988.
And the crimes he had committed? Well, it was for the relatively tame offence of being president of Durban-Westville University Student Union and a prominent activist in demonstrations against the de Klerk government.
'After my arrest in 1988 I was kept in solitary confinement for eight months. At first I was held in a police station and then transferred to Westville Prison. Basically, I was arrested for leading the student protests against apartheid in Durban.
'It was very difficult to study as they only gave me my books very close to the exams. It was also hard, of course, to concentrate after a day of interrogation,' Dr Naidoo recalls.
Today, operating out of the ICEE's African HQ, based at his Alma Mater, his work involves a lot of travel, both in Africa and the rest of world; but what does he see as his major tasks? 'ICEE's mission is to eliminate avoidable blindness due to uncorrected refractive error by developing sustainable solutions for disadvantaged communities in serious need of eye care.'

Access to services
The African office aims to promote access to these refractive services. His main task is to network with governments, non-governmental and development organisations, hospitals and clinics to establish opportunities for training personnel, develop appropriate programmes and ensure their efficient delivery.
'My role is the easy bit really,' he says modestly. 'The delivery of these programmes occurs due to a dedicated group of optometrists and administrators. They are the real driving force behind the ICEE in Africa, working long hours, well beyond the call of duty, and are really driven to eradicate unnecessary blindness.'
Problems with funding are obviously the major obstacle in the African continent for groups such as ICEE, but optician asked whether the organisation found it difficult to obtain aid from Western governments and pharmaceutical companies.
'The most important issue for us is the availability of human resources and the necessary infrastructure to provide eye care services,' Dr Naidoo points out.

Competing interests
There are many competing interests for limited healthcare budgets, in particular from HIV. As a result, blindness prevention suffers. That said, there have been significant donations from pharmaceutical companies, such as Merck and its product Mectizan.
'However, there needs to be more than a donation approach,' he says. 'That may be OK for short-term relief, but for sustainable solutions the pharmaceutical companies need to ensure that the cost of drugs are reduced and that the restrictions on the use of generics are lifted.'
Eye care in Africa, like all healthcare issues is beset by countless problems. These range from the political, whereby internal tensions result in the breakdown of services, to the economic, when food and survival is the priority, rather than the setting up of eye clinics.
'Educational problems also result in few training institutions and limited human resources for blindness prevention. Also, there are cultural barriers, whereby men often consider that the need for women to get an eye examination is unnecessary as they don't work outside the home.
'And, of course, there is always the traditional faith in the local healers for healthcare in general. This results in patients coming to eye clinics after having gone through traditional treatments.'

seeking unique solutions
'I believe it is critical that ÒuniqueÓ solutions to the prevention of blindness are formulated which take into consideration local dynamics, such as the traditional methods,' continues Dr Naidoo.
African countries are far off the targets that are needed for effective blindness prevention. Those with a significant number of ophthalmologists and optometrists, such as South Africa and Nigeria, are also beset with problems. Even in these countries most of the services are provided in the private sector, so this has resulted in internal disparities in terms of access to eye care, Dr Naidoo states.
So what is needed to develop new models for eye care delivery? 'The current approach of different ÒcadresÓ of eye care working independently is not ensuring the maximum output from our limited human resources,' he says. 'It is critical that an integrated approach is developed, whereby ophthalmic nurses, optometrists and ophthalmologists complement each other's roles and ensure the maximum utilisation of scarce resources.'