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Walking To Save Children’s Sight From Glaucoma




IF you come across Musa Ahmed, you would no doubt agree that he is a brilliant boy. But to the dismay of his parents and relatives, Musa’s academic result does not tally with his intelligence. At Jibowu Primary School, Lagos, where the 15 year-old attends, he always comes last in the class.

His predicament persisted for years until one day when he underwent free screening exercise conducted by a non-governmental organisation in Lagos where he was discovered to be short-sighted or myopic.

Like Musa, experts say a lot of children and teenagers are at risk of losing their sight. Statistics show that in Nigeria, over 500,000 children lose their sight yearly. The Nigeria National Blindness and Visual Impairment Survey showed that cataract and glaucoma are the most common causes of blindness. The survey adds that 84 per cent of blindness was due to avoidable causes.

This reality recently moved the Save kid’s Initiative, in partnership with the Lagos State Chapter of Nigeria Optometrists Association (NOA), to organise a fundraising event to help such children who may be in danger of losing their sight.

High point of the event was a five-kilometre walk on Admiralty Way, Lekki, Lagos and eye screening exercise for participants to mark World Glaucoma Day.

Chief Executive Officer of Save Kid’s Initiative and publisher of Eye Care Magazine, Dr Obinna Awiaka, an optometrist, stated that vision problems have been observed to affect school children’s academic work and mental wellbeing.

“We have noticed that a lot of children do not perform well in school. This is because of poor vision. When they cannot see the board clearly, they copy wrongly, and at the end of the day, their performance will drop.

“A lot of these children drop out of school, or perform poorly in school. If a child has astigmatism, for instance, instead of seeing three, he will be seeing eight. And instead of seeing letter C, he will be seeing O. It affects the child’s vision and eventually the child’s academic work.

“I went round the federation for eye screening exercise. During the screening, I discovered that the rate of refractive error in children is on the increase. The screening we did in a school for the blind in Jos, Plateau State, led us to start this initiative. I discovered that one of the children in the school was not blind, but had very high myopia. By the time we gave her glasses, she found her way out of the blind school. And today, she is doing well in a normal school.”

Awiaka added that glaucoma is on the increase in Nigeria. “A research done from 1996 to 2006 showed that glaucoma increased from 168 to about 1,700. That is almost 40 per cent increase. But that was in 2006; we are in 2015. The glaucoma scourge is indeed high,” he said.

He stated that such knowledge prompt the organisation to organise the Walk for Sight event whose proceeds, he said, would be used to fund the treatment of children with visual problems “because many of these children who are visually impaired cannot afford treatment.”

He continued: “Most of them do not live in affluent places like Lekki in Lagos, but somewhere remote in Borno State, Akwa Ibom, Obudu (Plateau State) and far villages. We want to reach out to those people in their villages.”

On how to reduce incidence of visual problems among Nigerians, the optometrist stated : “We need to do a lot of public awareness to let the people know that there is a need to screen children for visual impairment, even before they start school.”

To curb eye problems, he further advised “people to eat healthy meals that consist of carrots, broccoli, spinach and vegetables, not junk foods most people eat nowadays”. On her part, NOA President, Dr Ogechi Nwokedi, described glaucoma as a thief of the eyes.

“Glaucoma is a leading cause of irreversible blindness all over the world. It is the second leading cause of blindness in the world. Unfortunately, 50 per cent of those who have glaucoma do not know that they have it. That is why we are here today.

We are creating awareness for the eye disease, which is like a thief. It is a silent sight stealer because its steals the sight, without the victim knowing what is happening. By the time they know, the damage has already been done irreversibly.” She listed the risk factors for glaucoma to include race, diabetes, hypertension and visual challenges.

“One of the major risks of glaucoma is race. If you are black, you are more prone to having it than the Caucasian. Some people inherit it from their parents and grand-parents. But a lot of us do not even know the eye history of our family. You may not know that your great-grand father had glaucoma.

“People that are short-sighted and long-sighted are more prone to glaucoma. If something has hit your eye before, or you are diabetic, or hypertensive, you are prone to it. People that use some medications like steroids for some medical conditions are prone to it.”

One of the participants, Mr. John Zedomi, described the event as a laudable one, adding that a lot of visually impaired children need such initiatives to save their sights.

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