By Tom Headline, COVT
I was honored and humbled to be invited to participate for the First Asia and 6th ASEAN Optometric Congress held in Manila, Philippines during November 11-12, 2016. Dr. Charlie Ho and the members from the Integrated Philippine Association of Optometrists (IPAO) and the Asia Optometric Congress (AOC) put together an extremely well organized, well executed and informative meeting which was jam packed with education with a heavy emphasis on vision therapy and neuro-optometric education!
The theme of this event was “Asians helping Asia”. Throughout Asia, the level of optometric practice ranges significantly. In some Asian countries, optometrists are only allowed to perform refractions, while in others, they are authorized to diagnose eye disease. In some countries, there are only a handful of optometrists to help populations in the millions. So, the Asia Optometric Congress, a non-profit organization was formed to help bring the level of education and standards of practice up to uniform levels throughout Asia. They have held educational meetings on a biennial basis for the past 12 years. Concurrent with this event, the First Asia Optometric Congress was held which will be a biennial event with the next Congress going to be held in Indonesia in 2018. The organization (AOC) adopted its Constitution with 12 member countries and elected its Executive Council of seven members with Dr. Tan Kah Ooi from Singapore as President.
As mentioned previously, vision therapy and neuro-optometric rehabilitation were greatly emphasized during this two-day event as many optometrists in this region had not studied vision therapy previously. The attendance consisted of 475 delegates from over 14 countries throughout Asia. The purpose for my presentation was to introduce vision therapy and neuro-optometric rehabilitation to the optometrists and provide them an overview of VT and the developmental concept of vision. I shared with them that during my visit here to Manila, I was in a pharmacy which had a large display advertising ‘vision therapy’, but just consisted of the ‘pinhole’ glasses we see periodically advertised on infomercials on TV. I wanted them to know that VT is so much more than that.
We also were privileged to hear presentations from Drs. Lynn Hellerstein and John Abbondanza with the topics: Vision & Learning, Sports Concussions, Assessment and Management of Binocular Vision Disorders and Optometric Management of Acquired Brain Injury. Also, Dr. Hellerstein and Cindy Shepherd, COVT performed a workshop about the Power of Visualization. Furthermore, there were many case presentations from Asian optometrists who practice vision therapy in their offices demonstrating the dramatic improvements and touching testimonials from their patients. So, the delegates received a wealth of information and resources about what vision therapy truly is and what it has the power to achieve for patients.
In addition to the vision therapy content, there were also presentations with important information about primary eye care and myopia control. One of the primary themes of this meeting was about differentiation and specialization. Driving this point home, Dr. Charlie Ho gave a wonderful lecture about Sports Vision as a way of expanding the role of optometry in Asia. From his personal experience as a member of the Philippine Olympic Committee, he has done just that. He demonstrated to the Philippine government the improvements athletes experience with enhancing visual and brain skills to provide them that ‘extra-edge’ in their individual event. These improvements lead to Dr. Ho being sought out to offer the Philippine Olympic athletes sports vision training. Dr. Ho shared how expanding your practice with vision therapy provides an area where ODs are not directly competing with Ophthalmologists in the same way that using TPAs do.
In addition to the fantastic educational information, the Gala Dinnerwas a cultural feast for the senses with delicious food and fantastic entertainment. The Department of Philippine Tourism provided entertainers to perform cultural dances. Also, Philippine optometrists from Davao and Laguna performed intricate and beautiful historic cultural dances which demonstrated their incredible talent. This was beautiful to experience.
Throughout this meeting, Dr. Lynn Hellerstein, Dr. John Abbondanza, Cindy Shepherd and I experienced the warmth and gratitude of the delegates. They would approach us to have a photograph taken with us, or thank us for coming this distance to share our knowledge with them. They expressed excitement about learning more about vision therapy and how they could implement it to help their patients. Many of the Asian optometrists commented how incredible it was to have a meeting in Asia with so much vision therapy-related content. It was truly a memorable and historic event! Again, I was truly honored to participate; and hopefully, help foster the growth of vision therapy throughout this region of the world.