An Aston University academic is working in Palestine and Jordan to help better the provision of eye care in the two countries as part of a €565,000 worldwide two-year project.
Dr Frank Eperjesi flew out to Palestine on 25 May to begin work on improving the quality and quantity of services for people with visual impairment. He plans to visit eye care centres in the West Bank and Bethlehem to meet and assess the clinicians and practitioners he will be teaching and working with.
In the long-term, he will regularly return to the region to teach local ophthalmologists and optometrists how to assess and rehabilitate children who are born with sight loss or who acquire it a young age.
Dr Eperjesi will also help to prepare and develop new vision care teaching modules and present and run lectures and workshops to increase understanding of low-vision assessment and the prescription and use of magnification equipment, such as high powered spectacles.
The trip is Dr Eperjesi's first as part of the EU funded 'Curriculum and Skill Development in Vision Rehabilitation' project, convened by the German Jordanian University in Madaba, which has brought together vision care specialists from 11 institutions across Europe and the Middle East.
Visual impairment is a serious problem in the region - the World Health Organisation estimates that 2.5% of the total population of Jordan and Palestine suffer from issues with their sight. University optometry programmes are fairly new and qualified therapists have restricted access to higher education or professional training. As a result, the range of services offered to persons with impairment is considered poor.
The situation in Palestine is particularly bad. According to the St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital Group, the only charity offering expert eye care to the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the rate of blindness is ten times higher than in the UK.
Many people, deprived of access to healthcare, attempt to self-prescribe medication or 'stretch' it to make it last longer.
Dr Eperjesi, of Aston's Vision Sciences group, said: "Our work on this humanitarian project is vital and I'm looking forward to getting started on it. Good vision care and rehabilitation is crucial in ensuring people maintain a good quality of life. Too many people in Jordan and Palestine are suffering serious visual impairment because of conditions that can be treated relatively easily. For instance, the main cause of blindness and impairment in Palestine is cataracts.
"Health care professionals in the region are largely unacquainted with the needs of persons with visual impairment and lack specialised tools and strategies to deal with a variety of conditions. Another problem is that when people are given medication, they are taking incorrect dosages to make their supply last longer. In so doing, however, they fail to correctly treat their condition. We hope to change that."