What was touted as a cure turned out to be more of a hindrance for a family when their twin daughters found their vision deteriorating instead of improving after having paid $5,800 to have their myopia treated.
The 10-year-old girls sought treatment at SLM Visioncare in March this year, reported Shin Min Daily News. According to their mother, 41, the eye clinic's website claimed to be able to help patients recover naturally from myopia without the usage of drugs, surgery or injections. The website is now defunct.
During a particular session, one of her daughters overhead that one of the machines used in the treatment had malfunctioned and would not be used that day. Following a couple more sessions, the woman learnt that her daughter's vision had yet to improve, so she questioned the clinic about the alleged malfunctioning device.
A couple of sessions later, the woman was told that her daughter's vision had suddenly improved. Suspicious, she brought her children to KK Women's and Children's hospital but found out that their vision had deteriorated.
As it turns out, they weren't the only ones affected.
MOH, HSA investigating clinic
The Ministry of Health (MOH) is currently investigating the clinic after receiving six complaints from its customers.
The Consumer Authority of Singapore (Case) said that it received 11 consumer complaints against SLM Visioncare between Jan 1 last year and Nov 16 this year.
Separately, the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) is looking into both SLM Visioncare and ICC Visioncare following two complaints against them, for possible contraventions of the Health Products (Medical Devices) Regulations. Both had been advertising their treatments as a cure for myopia.
Speaking with Today, two other customers — a father of a 10-year-old and a mother of a six-year-old — reported that their children, too, found their condition worsening despite paying $2,490 and $3,800 respectively for treatment at SLM Visioncare.
The clinic also has several one-star reviews on Google about their alleged "ineffectiveness", while another page accusing the business of being a scam showed that complaints emerged as early as a year ago.
SLM Visioncare questions authenticity of complaints
In response to Today's enquiries, SLM Visioncare said it questioned the authenticity of the complaints, adding that they had received almost no complaints in the past 30 years of operation in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China, as well as the previous four years in Singapore.
They added that the complaints may have been incited by "disgruntled ex-employees" who were going to set up a similar company.
As their customers are required to follow a strict vision care schedule, part of which includes a daily 30-minute eye exercise, the clinic stressed that results would vary depending on the diligence of each customer.
One customer told Today his daughter, 11, no longer required glasses after attending 11 sessions that cost a total of $1,900. He added that her astigmatism had also improved.
However, experts told local media they are unaware of any scientifically proven cures for myopia and astigmatism.
Experts say no cure for myopia
Dr Lam Pin Min, currently the director of Eagle Eye Centre's pediatric ophthalmology and adult strabismus service and formerly the Senior Minister of State for Health, said that touted treatment methods are required to undergo rigorous clinical trials to prove their efficacy and safety before they can be used to treat patients.
Meanwhile, Dr Jerry Tan, a senior consultant and eye surgeon from Jerry Tan Eye Surgery, said selling cures for myopia was "like selling snake oil".
While pseudomyopia — a condition where the muscles in the eye face difficulty in adjusting to looking far after focusing on a shorter distance — something referred to as transient myopia or pseudomyopia — can be improved with eye exercises, myopia is a result of people whose eyeballs are too long, or have corneas that are too curved.
"Those are physical things that cannot be changed," he explained.
Vice president of the Singapore Optometric Association, Ms Chui Wen Juan, said the use of eye anatomy and scientific jargon without clear explanations about conditions such as farsightedness and astigmatism can lead to misinformation and may deceive the public into believing unvalidated "cures".
Certification and qualifications required
Under the Medicines (Advertisement and Sales) Act, companies that provide healthcare services are not allowed to advertise any services or skills relating to the treatment for any disease or medical conditions, including myopia.
There are also regulations in place for the practice of optometry and provision of medical devices by optometrists and opticians.
Under the Optometrist and Opticians Act, all optometrists and opticians that provide eye care services to the public are required to be trained, qualified and certified by the Optometrists and Opticians Board, and have a valid practising certificate before they are allowed to provide such services to customers.
Offenders found guilty of practising optometry or opticianry without proper qualifications could face a fine up to $25,00 or jail of six months, or both, for the first offence, while repeat offenders stand to be fined up to $50,000, a jail sentence of 12 months, or both.