On September 21 and 22, 2018, I was an invited speaker at the 2nd Annual Eastern Mediterranean Council of Optometry (EMCO) meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco. While not quite located on the eastern Mediterranean, their first meeting in Beirut, Lebanon in 2016 certainly was! I want to express my appreciation to the EMCO Scientific committee, Dr. Hassan Awada, Dr. Yazan Gamoh, and Dr. Liana Al-Labadi for their invitation.
I met optometrists and optometry students from all over the Middle East, northern Africa, India, Nepal and Bhutan. Speakers ranged from far and wide, including the US, Canada, UK, France, Australia, Sudan, South Africa, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan. Topics ranged from myopia control (with Naidoo Kovin, CEO of the Brien Holden Vision Institute), scleral contact lenses, amblyopia, ortho-keratology, pediatric eyecare, and for me, of course, low vision. Co-sponsored by the Moroccan Council of Optometry and the World Congress of Optometry (WCO), the meeting attracted several hundred attendees.
I was asked to present three COPE approved courses—the first on treating distance vision loss, a second on understanding and treating hemianopic and tunnel vision visual field loss, and lastly a bioptic prescribing and fitting workshop. The 2-hour workshop, limited to 12 attendees was filled with energetic, enthusiastic (and young!) optometrists. We discussed how to identify promising candidates, determine the appropriate prescription, establishing a prognosis, and especially the nuts and bolts of fitting the telescopes. Attendees played the roles of both patients and doctors and took turns fitting the Ocutech bioptics on each other. It didn’t take long for them to see how easy it is! We also demonstrated the new Ocutech Falcon Autofocus bioptic, which was a highlight and huge success! Since many spoke only French and Arabic, I was ably translated and assisted by Dr. Liana Al-Labadi, a 2009 graduate of the OSU School of Optometry, who now practices in Palestine.
Jamaa El Fna Square
Marrakesh is known for it’s overwhelming, easy to get lost in, Medina called Jamaa El Fna Square (here’s a link to great photos: http://www.jemaa-el-fna.com/en/pictures/ ) with shops and stalls selling everything you might imagine, including remarkable craft items in brass, leather, textiles, rugs, clothing, pottery, and spices, fruits and vegetables (including dates right off of the palm trees).
Every seller wants to make a special deal just for you! The square attracts street performers, snake charmers, and musicians in a real carnival atmosphere. It really starts to buzz as the sun sets and food stalls open for delicious street food. And of course, starting at 5:30 am and for 5 times every day, the mullahs call out from their mosques their melodious call to prayer. Devout men have dark bruises on the center of their foreheads, demonstrative proof of their devotion. And, everywhere you go, there’s sweet and delicious mint tea served in glasses, often too hot to hold.
So, enough with the travel log– the meeting was a lot of fun, I met folks from all over, learned about how optometry works (or not!) in their countries, visiting the exhibits, and drinking tea and eating pastries at the breaks. The scope of practice and opportunities for optometry throughout these countries ranges widely—from solely refractionists, to contact lenses, but no diagnostics, and in some states no licensure or regulation. Despite the professional and career challenges that many face, their enthusiasm was inspiring. Optometrists are fighting for their credibility and realize the impact they can have in their home countries to provide vision care in places where such availability is frequently not widespread and where simply eyeglasses could alleviate the majority of visual impairment!
The Take Away Lesson
An important take away from the meeting was about how vital vision and eye care is in developing countries, and that the lack of eyeglasses can severely impact the lives and productivity of individuals and ultimately the economic development of their countries. That is why the work of EMCO, the WCO, the Brien Holden Vision Institute, VOSH, SightSavers, and may other optometric organizations should be applauded and supported.