Trends and implications for achieving VISION 2020 human resources for eye health targets in 16 countries of sub-Saharan Africa by the year 2020

Jennifer J Palmer, Farai Chinanayi, Alice Gilbert, Devan Pillay, Samantha Fox, Jyoti Jaggernath, Kovin Naidoo, Ronnie Graham, Daksha Patel, Karl Blanchet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Development of human resources for eye health (HReH) is a major global eye health strategy to reduce the prevalence of avoidable visual impairment by the year 2020. Building on our previous analysis of current progress towards key HReH indicators and cataract surgery rates (CSRs), we predicted future indicator achievement among 16 countries of sub-Saharan Africa by 2020.

Surgical and HReH data were collected from national eye care programme coordinators on six practitioner cadres: ophthalmologists, cataract surgeons, ophthalmic clinical officers, ophthalmic nurses, optometrists and ‘mid-level refractionists’ and combined them with publicly available population data to calculate practitioner-to-population ratios and CSRs. Data on workforce entry and exit (2008 to 2010) was used to project practitioner population and CSR growth between 2011 and 2020 in relation to projected growth in the general population. Associations between indicator progress and the presence of a non-physician cataract surgeon cadre were also explored using Wilcoxon rank sum tests and Spearman rank correlations.

In our 16-country sample, practitioner per million population ratios are predicted to increase slightly for surgeons (ophthalmologists/cataract surgeons, from 3.1 in 2011 to 3.4 in 2020) and ophthalmic nurses/clinical officers (5.8 to 6.8) but remain low for refractionists (including optometrists, at 3.6 in 2011 and 2020). Among countries that have not already achieved target indicators, however, practitioner growth will be insufficient for any additional countries to reach the surgeon and refractionist targets by year 2020. Without further strategy change and investment, even after 2020, surgeon growth is only expected to sufficiently outpace general population growth to reach the target in one country. For nurses, two additional countries will achieve the target while one will fall below it. In 2011, high surgeon practitioner ratios were associated with high CSR, regardless of the type of surgeon employed. The cataract surgeon workforce is growing proportionately faster than the ophthalmologist.


The HReH workforce is not growing fast enough to achieve global eye health targets in most of the sub-Saharan countries we surveyed by 2020. Countries seeking to make rapid progress to improve CSR could prioritise investment in training new cataract surgeons over ophthalmologists and improving surgical output efficiency.
Original languageEnglish
Article number45
JournalHuman Resources for Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2014


  • Human resources
  • Eye health
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Cataract
  • Ophthalmology
  • Optometry
  • Nursing Vision 2020
  • Task-shifting


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