For Tanzanian-Indian student, Priya Morjaria, accessible eye care for every child is essential. Priya's experience studying in London is helping her to make this a reality in parts of the world that need it the most. We caught up with Priya at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) to find out more.
Priya grew up with an awareness of how important eye care is - and the tragic consequences when this is overlooked. Certain life events inspired her to pursue the study of optometry in London, as she explains: "My grandfather went blind from a routine cataract operation that went wrong so I've seen first-hand how devastating blindness can be. In some parts of the world, people do not have access to adequate eye care and the consequences are tragic. I wore my first pair of glasses at the age of 7 but I could easily have been one of the children who slipped through the net. Undiagnosed vision problems are often misunderstood - a teacher thinks a child is playing up for example, when really they just can't see properly and all they need is a pair of glasses."
Priya is currently studying for a PhD in Public Health for Eye Care at LSHTM, following an undergraduate degree in optometry from City, University of London and a Masters at LSHTM. Her first application to continue her studies at LSHTM was turned down due to her lack of experience. This prompted Priya to gain invaluable experience in the field which not only gave her a unique insight into the challenges ahead - it also helped shape her future career.
Priya explained: "Prior to my Masters, I worked as a community optometrist in the UK and as a volunteer optometrist in Tanzania, India and Burkina Faso. The Masters gave me the skills and opportunity to then work in Kenya, Malawi, Ethiopia, Zambia, Bangladesh and Nepal. My PhD focuses on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of school health programs for children who need vision correction and I've recently finished a series of clinical trials in Bangalore and Hyderabad, India, evaluating vision screening in schools. As the research lead for Peek Vision - a charity that aims to provide quality, sustainable eye health for everyone - I discovered that we could deal with 86% of school children on the spot by giving them a pair of glasses."
As a result of Peek's screening work in Kenya and Botswana, parallel to Priya's clinical work in India, Priya has recently heard that the government of Botswana is implementing new policy changes to roll out a national program for vision screening in all schools. This significant achievement will ensure that children's eye problems are picked up early and corrected, which will positively change and dramatically improve the lives of thousands of people. Priya said: "'This is extremely important as 80% of our learning is visual. If a child is not able to see at school then the teacher concludes that they are not paying attention or are not interested in participating, when it could simply be that a child is not able to see. The reality is that usually a child does not know that they are not able to see clearly."
Commenting on how her time in London has helped shape her aspirations, Priya said: "London is so diverse. I have colleagues from all over the world and can tap into their vast knowledge of different countries. We're like a global power team and we're gradually influencing policy to change eye care for the better."
Priya added: "London is home - it's welcoming and culturally fascinating. There's something magical about this city. London has given me so many connections to help make the changes I want to see happen."
Priya has been nominated for the World Council of Optometry, Paul Berman Young Leader Award - a global accolade which will be announced in September at the World Council of Optometry Congress in India.
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