Original Research

Experiences and perceptions of undergraduate optometry students towards public eye care services in South Africa

Noxolo L. Zulu, Diane van Staden
African Vision and Eye Health | Vol 82, No 1 | a726 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/aveh.v82i1.726 | © 2023 Noxolo L. Zulu, Diane van Staden | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 02 December 2021 | Published: 22 August 2023

About the author(s)

Noxolo L. Zulu, Department of Optometry, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
Diane van Staden, Department of Optometry, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

Abstract

Background: Public eye care services in South Africa are relatively underdeveloped. This is, in part, due to optometry services historically being private sector-focussed, as well as a lack of ophthalmologists in the country. Optometry students who engage in service learning at public health facilities are well placed to share their perceptions of this service.

Aim: To investigate the perceptions and experiences of optometry students regarding public eye care services in South Africa.

Setting: Data were collected on the Phelophepa Health Care Train while it was stationed at Musina and Polokwane in 2019.

Methods: A qualitative study was conducted using focus group interviews to collect data from South African optometry students. Two focus group sessions were held, with a total sample of 18 representing two different higher education institutions. Interview recordings were transcribed, and data were thematically analysed using interpretive content analysis.

Results: Three main themes emerged, namely ‘inability to deliver quality services’, ‘negative perceptions about public eye care services’ and ‘potential to improve public eye care services’. Strengthening infrastructure and human resource capacity were seen as fundamental steps to improving public eye care services in South Africa.

Conclusion: Strengthening public eye care services in South Africa is necessary in order to improve the experience-based perceptions of optometry students towards this sector. Addressing eye health system weaknesses through appropriate resourcing will likely contribute to attracting this potential future human resource to the sector, and assist in alleviating the shortage of human resources for eye health within South Africa’s public health service.

Contribution: Optometry education and professional practice in South Africa is increasingly adopting a more public health approach. This shift towards strengthening public eye care services and improving human resources capacity for the same is both important and necessary to address unmet eye health needs in the country. However, current gaps and challenges within the public health system may deter new graduates in South Africa from choosing this practice path if the overall challenges of resourcing and capacity to deliver quality services are not addressed.

 

 


Keywords

eye care services; optometry students; public eye care; public health; health systems strengthening; health services; optometry; ophthalmology; access to eye care; healthcare resourcing

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