WHO assigns the National Center on low vision to develop vision rehabilitation curricula

World Health Organization

“Italy is leading an international effort to determine the standard for professional skills and abilities in the field of vision rehabilitation, which is an integral part of eye care”, says Dr. Filippo Amore, director of the National Center on low vision. The conclusive virtual meeting of leading international experts will take place on Wednesday, 4 March. Soon afterward, a number of Italian and international specialists will leave for Morocco to introduce vision rehabilitation services in the country and put into practice the work that has been developed over the past three years.

For the past six years, the National Center of Service and Research for the Prevention of Blindness has been working in collaboration with the WHO to define and develop the international standards for vision rehabilitation.

In particular, the objective of the WHO’s mandate since 2016 has been the development of a set of curricula aimed at professional figures working in the field of vision rehabilitation (i.e. ophthalmologists, psychologists, orthoptists, O&M instructors, pediatric neurologists, etc.).

Dr. Amore explained that “Our aim has been to identify the criteria and prerequisites for the training of a number of health professionals who are involved in the vision rehabilitation of adults and children.”

This aim will be achieved on 4 March, during a teleconference where some of the world’s leading experts on the subject will convene to approve the curricula that have been drafted by the National Center.

“Rehabilitation is an integral part of care,” Dr. Amore continues. “Even when a patient’s sight is almost completely lost to an acute or chronic disease, a rehabilitation program helps them face and overcome their grief, and partially recover their autonomy. The culture and practice of vision rehabilitation are still under development both in Italy and around the world, but are not well rooted yet. Thanks to the WHO’s mandate, we are paving the way in this field.”

The drafting and reviewing of the curricula have lasted three years. “We started from a close review of the existing literature and available data,” explained Dr. Simona Turco, project manager of the curricula initiative. “We then made a list of the essential and higher-level skills which are deemed indispensable for the delivery of vision rehabilitation services in each of the three settings/levels of care identified by the WHO: the primary level, or the first point of consultation; the secondary level, where outpatient treatment is provided by specialists; and the tertiary level, usually a highly specialized health center with a leading national role also for research programs.

The first draft of the curricula was extensively reviewed, with many international experts suggesting modifications and integrations. These changes were in turn analyzed by specialists, in a collaborative effort. The final curricula draft that resulted from this process will eventually be reviewed and approved during the 4 March teleconference.

On the path that has been traveled since 2013 – when the WHO’s first mandate assigned the National Center to develop the international standards for vision rehabilitation – a key factor has been the ability to adapt requirements, tools, and skills to the capacity of health systems in middle- and low-income countries.

The task received from the WHO was to develop a set of curricula for vision rehabilitation operators. “It was difficult to find the right balance, due to the obvious differences in available equipment, territorial organization and therapeutic priorities among various countries, but it was worth it,” Dr. Amore concludes. In March 2020, the National Center will launch a new project for the introduction of vision rehabilitation services in Morocco. This assignment is part of the WHO’s mandate and will be the first opportunity to implement vision rehabilitation standards and the newly approved curricula on the ground.