The University of Auckland’s School of Optometry and Vision (SOVS) has begun the search for a senior optometrist and is commissioning a specially designed vehicle to launch a mobile optometry clinic for those unlikely to visit an optometrist in the greater Auckland area.
Thanks to a $1.8 million donation spread over five years from the Fehl Charitable Trust, the ‘Aotearoa vision bus’ project now has sufficient funding to commence operations, said a delighted Professor Steven Dakin, head of SOVS. The money will be used to purchase a vehicle, which will be fitted out with state-of-the-art clinical equipment, and fund an administrator and full-time, senior optometrist supervisor to oversee two senior optometry students who, together with the supervisor, will staff the bus.
“The main purpose of this is a training platform. This will augment existing school screening services and provide eye examinations to those we think are most at risk of not going to the optometrist,” said Prof Dakin.
Wheelchair accessible, it is envisaged the bus will primarily screen older people and children from lower socio-economic areas, initially in the greater Auckland area. This will include partnering with Māori to deliver services to some marae and visiting care homes. With more funding, however, the area and service scope of the mobile clinic could be widened, said Prof Dakin. “We have a whole list of other proposals which we’d like to explore, like support for diabetic retinopathy screening and outreach services in Northland.”
The bus will also help promote optometry as a profession to those unlikely to be exposed to it, such as children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, and provide an opportunity to gather data for research purposes, such as the National Eye Health Survey (see lead story), said Prof Dakin. The project has been designed to help address the growing health inequity problem in New Zealand by providing direct action in the community, targeting groups under served by the current system, he said. “It will also put students in environments where they will begin to see the barriers people face and the opportunities for optometry, as a profession, to make a difference. If you want to get kids working in rural settings in New Zealand, you put them out there, you show them what it’s like; that is why you need a mobile service.”
SOVS’ new vision bus should be operational by 1 March, the start of the first semester next year, said Prof Dakin.