Forest Grove-based College of Optometry is assisting with eye care in the world's most populous country.

COURTESY PHOTO: PACIFIC UNIVERSITY - The Eyeis Group visited Pacific University in November 2017. The university is working to address nearsightedness with a number of Chinese partners.Nearsightedness, also known as myopia, might seem like a fairly innocuous word, but it is a huge eye care health problem in China, which is why Pacific University is embarking on an effort to help China address the large-scale public health issue.

"Our primary goal is to help improve eye care practice and overall vision health in China by providing evidence-based optometry education to licensed doctors, practitioners and aspiring medical students, so that they can return home and provide comprehensive eye care to their patients," Pacific College of Optometry Dean Jennifer Coyle said.

In April, nearly 50 Chinese-based optometrists and ophthalmologists will travel to Forest Grove for three months of U.S.-style optometry training taught by Pacific faculty. In addition to traditional binocular, known as two-eye vision health education, the physicians will be able to take month-long courses in pediatric vision care, advanced contact lens application and clinical operation management.

"More than half of China's 1.4 billion people suffer from myopia," Coyle added, "yet less than 5 percent of China's health practitioners are adequately trained in eye healthcare to treat it and other vision problems."

According to the National Institutes of Health, myopia occurs when the eye grows too long from front to back. Instead of focusing images on the retina — the light-sensitive tissue in the back of the eye — the lens of the eye focuses the image in front of the retina. Myopia also can be the result of a cornea that is too curved for the length of the eyeball or a lens that is too thick. Aside from vision issues, myopia often causes headaches.

According to Coyle, the problem is even more glaring with China's younger population, with nearly 79 percent of Chinese children nearsighted by the age of 19, with nearly one-in-five considered severely myopic. In rural China, one-in-six children who need corrective lenses have them.

Coyle said the concept of early or well-child healthcare is new to China, and optometric education has been limited. Comprehensive vision services, including vision therapy and rehabilitation, as well as advanced contact lens applications and modern optometric clinic management, are lacking throughout the country, she added.

In an ongoing effort to address the treatment of myopia, in August, Pacific University will begin a bachelor of applied vision science degree program exclusively for Chinese optometry students who are enrolled at one of several partner institutions, including Tianjin Vocational Institute, NanKai University and the Shandong Medical University of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Students will spend one year of their four-year programs at Pacific University, living and studying on its Forest Grove campus, which Coyle said will lend itself to the Forest Grove economy.

"These students will be frequenting local businesses and eating at our restaurants as well," she noted.

The initial class of the degree program will consist of 30 to 35 students, with a goal enrollment of 80 by the fifth year of the program in fall 2022. All courses will be taught in English with the assistance of bilingual teaching assistants.

The new offerings are the result of partnerships that Pacific University has built with the universities in China and with Eyeis Group, a China-based healthcare organization committed to protecting the health of human eyes. Eyeis has committed $750,000 so far to the initiatives, according to Coyle.

The Pacific University College of Optometry was founded in 1921 as the North Pacific College of Optometry. It became part of Pacific University and the Forest Grove campus in 1945. Practitioners gain expertise in general optometry, contact lenses, low vision, vision therapy, sports vision and ocular disease.

COURTESY PHOTO: PACIFIC UNIVERSITY - Jefferson Hall currently hosts Pacific University's College of Optometry in Forest Grove.

By Mandy Feder-Sawyer
Arts & Culture Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times/Hillsboro Tribune
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