Curbing avoidable blindness
Yahaya Kassimu, 24 , is from a small village in the northern part of the country with a high prevalence of trachoma, an infection of the eyes. He got infected with trachoma when he was six and this was aided by the huge number of flies in his near desert community that transmitted it from one person to the other.
The absence of a proper health care facility and a trachoma control centre nearby made him to have repeated infections, and today he is a blind man. So are some of his relatives and many people around him.
Daily Trust observed people persistently driving flies from their faces in Yahaya’s community both to avoid discomfort as they perch, and to avoid transmission of the trachoma.
Trachoma is caused by an organism called Chlamydia trachomatis. It causes scarring on the inside of the eyelid, making the eyelashes eventually turn in.
As the country joins the world to mark the 2015 World Sight Day on Thursday, there is urgent need for concerted efforts in preventing avoidable blindness and vision impairment.
The World Sight Day (WSD) is an annual day of awareness held on the second Thursday of October every year. This year it falls on Thursday 8th of October 2015 and the theme is “Universal Eye Health, Eye Care for All”.
According to Dr Abiola Oyeleye, a consultant ophthalmologist in Lagos, 90% of visually impaired live in developing countries including Nigeria, and it is estimated that 1,130,000 individuals over 40 years old are currently blind in Nigeria.
“Cataract is the most common cause of blindness worldwide and vision can be restored by a 20 minute operation. Glaucoma is the second most common cause of blindness. Though, it cannot be cured its progress can be stopped. Refractive errors (the need for glasses) are the most common cause of moderate visual impairment,” he said.
He said there are 285 million blind/visually impaired people in the world, and 80% of blindness is avoidable.
a 10 minute eye test with professional eye care practitioners could help prevent blindness. “It is much cheaper to have an eye test than to go blind,” said Oyeleye,
Dr Barka David Lass, an ophthalmologist and the medical director of Jordan Eye Hospital in Dogon-Karfe, Jos, Plateau State also said cataract and glaucoma are the leading causes of avoidable blindness in Nigeria and the world over.
He said while primary cataract cannot be prevented, secondary cataract can be prevented through the avoidance of the indiscriminate use of eye drops containing steroids, prevention of trauma to the eye, appropriate treatment of inflammation of the eye, adequate treatment of diseases such as diabetes among many other options.
“Blindness from cataract irrespective of the cause can be prevented through early detection and appropriate surgery,” he said.
Dr Adunola Ogunro, a consultant ophthalmologist at Eye Foundation Hospital, Abuja and who has special interest in glaucoma said that glaucoma is a disease that affects the optic nerve and causes blindness but added that blindness from glaucoma can be prevented.
The glaucoma specialist said if the disease is detected and treated early treatment it will not necessarily cause blindness throughout the individual’s life.
On preventing glaucoma, she advised that “Everybody should at least check their eyes once a year and for people with family history, at least twice a year because it is only by checking the eyes, going for full eye examination that one can detect if there is glaucoma or not.”
According to Dr Barka David Lass, medical director of Jordan Eye Hospital Jos, we have very few facilities providing eye care in the country and these few facilities are located in the big cities and most rural areas do not have eye care facilities thereby making it extremely difficult for them to access eye care.
“The few facilities in the cities are also very expensive, making people to resort to alternative care including traditional eye care practices’’.
Another concern that is closely related to the one above is the lack of highly specialized eye cares in the country, Dr lass said most of the eye care services that we provide in this country are mainly curative with little or no emphasis on preventive or rehabilitative eye care services.
He also lamented that most of the preventive eye care programs like the trachoma control, river blindness control, vitamin A distribution and school eye health programs are largely non- governmental organization (NGO) driven.
He said eye care delivery has not found the relevance it deserves before government and health care managers in this country, yet, it offers some of the most cost effective interventions and good return on investment in health care delivery.