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Addressing rising cases of vision impairment

By Stanley Akpunonu
17 October 2019   |   3:49 am
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has given reasons why more than one billion people worldwide are living with vision impairment. According to the first World report on vision issued by the (WHO), the reasons are because they do not get the care they need for conditions like short and farsightedness, glaucoma and cataract.

EYE SCREENING… Group provides free cataract screening and surgeries at Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) targeting over 100 patients

*Group provides free cataract screening, surgeries to prevent patients from getting blind

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has given reasons why more than one billion people worldwide are living with vision impairment.

According to the first World report on vision issued by the (WHO), the reasons are because they do not get the care they need for conditions like short and farsightedness, glaucoma and cataract.

The report launched ahead of World Sight Day on October 10, found that ageing populations, changing lifestyles and limited access to eye care, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, are among the main drivers of the rising numbers of people living with vision impairment.

Also, WHO, identified cataract as the major cause of blindness globally, responsible for 51 percent of world blindness, affecting about 20 million people with 90 per cent of them in low- and middle-income countries.

It projected that about 3.5 million people are blind from cataract due to lack of access to eye care in Sub-Saharan Africa and the number is expected to grow if systemic measures are not employed.

To reverse the trend, Samsung Heavy Industries Nigeria Limited (SHIN) as part of its Cooperate Social Responsibility (CSR) has partnered Vision Care and Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) on its fifth free cataract surgery targeting over 100 patients.

Cataract is clouding of the lens of the eye, which prevents clear vision. Although most cases of cataract are related to the ageing process, occasionally children can be born with the condition, or a cataract may develop after eye injuries, inflammation, and some other eye diseases.

However, to mark the World Sight Day, WHO has cited the need to make eye care an integral part of universal health coverage, Implement integrated people-centred eye care in health systems and promote high-quality implementation and health systems research complementing existing evidence for effective eye care interventions.

Chief Executive Officer, SHIN, Mr Dongseong Suh, said that the cataract surgery intervention was targeted at the most vulnerable people who could not afford the cost of the surgery.

He revealed that his company has been working hand-in-hand with Vision Care, an arm of the WHO dedicated to restore and improve people vision.

Suh added: “The free eye surgery was part of SHIN’s CSR projects in Nigeria. As one of the leading multinational corporations, the Korean shipbuilding giant recognises its corporate philosophy of giving back to society on a global scale, including in Africa.”

Also, Chief Medical Director (CMD), LASUTH, Prof. Adetokunbo Fabamwo, tasked other organisations to key into SHIN’s initiative to assist the less privileged in the society because the government cannot do it alone.

Fabamwo noted that mission should transfer skills and knowledge to local surgeons so as to sustain the programme.

Volunteers Team Leader, Vision Care, Milyung Oh, said that the organisation was passionate about collaborating on missions that would restore immediate vision to citizens.

When The Guardian visited the venue, Mrs. Iweroma Grace, 70, who came all the way from Delta State recalled how she was made to change glasses frequently without result.

She said: “I am based in Delta State, and back home I have visited several hospital where they told me that the solution to my short-sightedness is to change glasses. Only God knows how many glasses I have bought yet no changes until I came here and was told that it’s cataract that requires surgery.”

Also, two-year-old Victor was among the 115 patients who benefitted from this year’s free cataract eye surgery. “Daddy I can see balloon” was the first statement that came out of Master Victor’s mouth after the doctors removed the bandage from his eyes.

Overwhelmed with joy, Victor’s father, Mr. Sunday Oshomore, said that since his son was diagnosed with cataract a year ago, it was difficult for them to raise the huge amount needed for the surgery.

“He was a year old when we noticed that he can’t see. When I heard about this free surgery I decided to give it a trial and thank God today, my son can now see. By now he is supposed to have started school but because of the cataract he can’t go, but I am happy he can start school now.”

Mr. Dehinsilu Miniru, 63, who was also among the beneficiaries, recalled how he has suffered due to lack of vision. “Before the surgery, I don’t use to see clearly, on a regular occasion, if the motorbike is coming I won’t know until it gets close to me. Sometimes, if something drops from my hand I won’t see it. I use to beg people to help me load recharge card on my phone,” he said.

“I heard about this free eyes surgery by Samsung last year but it was late. One of my relatives that work here said its annual event, so due to financial challenges I have to wait for a year to benefit from this free eyes surgery,” he added.

Director-General of WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: “Eye conditions and vision impairment are widespread, and far too often they still go untreated.

“People who need eye care must be able to receive quality interventions without suffering financial hardship. Including eye care in national health plans and essential packages of care is an important part of every country’s journey towards universal health coverage.”

Tedros added: “It is unacceptable that 65 million people are blind or have impaired sight when their vision could have been corrected overnight with a cataract operation, or that over 800 million struggle in everyday activities because they lack access to a pair of glasses.”

Other main findings of the WHO report include:
The burden of eye conditions and vision impairment is not borne equally: it is often far greater in people living in rural areas, those with low incomes, women, older people, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities and indigenous populations.

The unmet need for distance vision impairment in low- and middle-income regions is estimated to be four times higher than in high-income regions.

Low- and middle-income regions of western and eastern sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have rates of blindness that are eight times higher than in all high-income countries. Rates of cataract and trachomatous trichiasis are higher among women, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

US$14.3 billion is needed to address the backlog of one billion people living with vision impairment or blindness due to short and farsightedness and cataracts.

What are the main causes of rising cases of vision impairment? According to the report, eye conditions that can cause vision impairment and blindness – such as cataract, trachoma and refractive error – are the main focus of national prevention and other eye care strategies. But eye conditions that do not typically impair vision, including dry eye and conjunctivitis, must not be overlooked as they are among the main reasons for people to seek eye health care services in all countries.

The combination of a growing and ageing population will significantly increase the total number of people with eye conditions and vision impairment since prevalence increases with age.

Other main drivers of the most common eye conditions include:
Myopia (near-sightedness): Increased time spent indoors and increased “near work” activities are leading to more people suffering from myopia. Increased outdoor time can reduce this risk.

Diabetic retinopathy: increasing numbers of people are living with diabetes, particularly Type 2, which can impact vision if not detected and treated. Nearly all people with diabetes will have some form of retinopathy in their lifetimes. Routine eye checks and good diabetes control can protect people’s vision from this condition.

Late detection: Due to weak or poorly integrated eye care services, many people lack access to routine checks that can detect conditions and lead to the delivery of appropriate preventive care or treatment.

The report found stronger integration of eye care is needed within national health services, including at primary health care level, to ensure that the eye care needs of more people are addressed, including through prevention, early detection, treatment and rehabilitation.

The report stated that all people living with blindness and severe vision impairment who cannot be treated are still able to lead independent lives if they access rehabilitation services. Options include optical magnifiers and reading use Braille, to smartphone wayfinders and orientation and mobility training with white canes.