A former flying optometrist in the Australian outback is now behind the wheel of New Zealand’s first custom-built mobile optometry service.
Mr Veeran Morar, a New Zealand optometrist who trained at the University of Auckland, is driving Vision Bus Aotearoa, which has launched in a bid to improve access to eye healthcare.
“Everything a modern optometry clinic has, we have on board. It’s really a New Zealand first,” Morar, who previously worked with Lions Outback Vision in Western Australia for five years, said.
The Vision Bus Aotearoa launched on 10 June at the University of Auckland, where Morar is now teaching optometry and vision science.
As a child, Morar’s mother took her hockey-loving son to an optometrist after he noticed he couldn’t see the hockey ball well.
“I put on my first pair of glasses and I was really blown away. I could see leaves on the trees again. I realised what I had been missing out on,” Morar said.
“I knew at the time it was going to change my life and it did. I went on to play hockey for New Zealand. I am reminded of that experience every time I give a kid a pair of glasses.”
The Vision Bus Aotearoa is a state-of-the-art comprehensive optometry clinic that allows University of Auckland staff and student optometrists to deliver full eye exams onsite at schools and other locations.
It recently started visiting south Auckland schools, marae (traditional meeting grounds) and refugee centres, offering eye tests and treatments, including glasses, at no cost to patients.
“Our bus is vital for education, not only for our optometry students but for school kids in the community who are being touched by optometry,” Morar said.
“That should lead to more kids coming to study with us. We are keen to have more Māori and Pacific students. To be sustainable in the equity fight, we need to have a diverse group of optometrists.”
Professor Steven Dakin at the School of Optometry and Vision Science has championed the idea of a mobile optometry service for the past five years.
“Our own University-run school vision screening programme across greater Auckland reveals that one in ten schoolchildren need glasses but don’t have them,” Dakin said.
“This is concerning because they don’t have good visual correction which means they can’t see whiteboards, which impacts educationally.
“More worryingly, we see potentially blinding conditions, such as keratoconus, regularly going undiagnosed in children, with Māori and Pacific children disproportionately affected,” he said.
Cost is a significant barrier to accessing eye healthcare in New Zealand.
“For adults, the model in Aotearoa is that the customer pays,” Dakin said.
Vision Bus Aotearoa is currently funded entirely through philanthropy, by the Fehl family, the Blake family, Essilor and the Buchanan Charitable Foundation.
The hope is that the model the bus supports – delivering eye-health services in partnership with local communities – will be widely adopted and state-funded in the future.
The School of Optometry and Vision Science plans to lead a national eye health survey to gather data on the most common causes of visual impairment in New Zealand.