Skills of general health workers in primary eye care in Kenya, Malawi and Tanzania

BACKGROUND:Primary eye care (PEC) in sub-Saharan Africa usually means the diagnosis, treatment, and referral of eye conditions at the most basic level of the health system by primary health care workers (PHCWs), who receive minimal training in eye care as part of their curricula. We undertook this study with the aim to evaluate basic PEC knowledge and ophthalmologic skills of PHCWs, as well as the factors associated with these in selected districts in Kenya, Malawi, and Tanzania. METHODS: A standardized (26 items) questionnaire was administered to PHCWs in all primary health care (PHC) facilities of 2 districts in each country. Demographic information was collected and an examination aimed to measure competency in 5 key areas (recognition and management of advanced cataract, conjunctivitis, presbyopia, and severe trauma plus demonstrated ability to measure visual acuity) was administered. RESULTS: Three-hundred-forty-three PHCWs were enrolled (100, 107, and 136 in Tanzania, Kenya, and Malawi, respectively). The competency scores of PHCW varied by area, with 55.7%, 61.2%, 31.2%, and 66.1% scoring at the competency level in advanced cataract, conjunctivitis, presbyopia, and trauma, respectively. Only 8.2% could measure visual acuity. Combining all scores, only 9 (2.6%) demonstrated competence in all areas. CONCLUSION: The current skills of health workers in PEC are low, with a large per cent below the basic competency level. There is an urgent need to reconsider the expectations of PEC and the content of training.