Preventing blindness through awareness

THE PUNCH Newspaper-Kemi Obasola

Statistics have shown that at least 13 million children aged between five and 15 years are blind around the world. This shows that even children are not exempted from diseases that can affect the eyes and therefore impair sight for life. According to global estimates released by the World Health Organisation in 2006, uncorrected refractive errors are also responsible for visual impairment.

The WHO figures show that 45 million working-age adults aged 16-49 are visually impaired, although this figure does include adults with reading problems (Presbyopes). Perhaps, this is why prevention of blindness forms the crux of the annual conference of the Lagos Branch of the Nigerian Optometric Association, which commenced on Thursday.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the conference, the association‘s Lagos branch chairperson, Dr. Eniola Ajayi, said existing WHO statistics also showed that there were 314 million people around the world with impaired vision due either to eye disease or uncorrected refractive errors.

”Of this number, 45 million are actually blind. The interesting bit is that 75 per cent of all blindness in the world is preventable. It therefore compels optometrists to update themselves through good quality education and establish standard professional ethics to make achieving the Vision 2020 goal: The Right to Sight possible,” she said.

Explaining the theme of the conference, “Achieving Good Binocular Vision in Eye Care,” Ajayi said the time had come for optometrists not just in Nigeria, but around the world to focus on Ocular Pathology and Primary Eye Care Optometry.

Also speaking on preventive blindness, the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris, said of the 64,000 people screened by the state‘s Blindness Prevention Unit in 2009, there were over 70 per cent cases of refractive error.

This, Idris said, showed that there were still many underserved communities across the state that needed the services of optometrists.

The situation, he said, was not peculiar to the state, as there was a national maldistribution of human resources, “which cuts across board, but more as it affects your profession.”

According to him, optometry and refractive error services are part of the components of community eye care services, which makes it imperative for optometrists to reach out to rural communities so that achieving the Vision 2020 goal- The Right to Sight would not be a mirage.

The two leading causes of preventable blindness in the country, he said, were cataract and glaucoma.

The commissioner, who agreed that a lot still needed to be done in the area of blindness prevention including in children, said the state had collaborated with Save-A-Sight Foundation to train teachers to identify eye defects and infections for appropriate referrals to eye clinics in their catchment areas. This, he said, was not done without monitoring and evaluating the project to ensure sustainability which is necessary for set goals to be achieved. He said the standard expected of Nigerian optometrists must be comparable to any world standard. He urged them to look for ways of surpassing the present standard by beating their “own records.”

He said, “By your records, there are 350 optometrists in Lagos State, and with a population of 18 million people, the recommended ratio per population of 1:500,000 for optometrists by the vision 20:20 strategy has been exceeded.

“If we are able to address the issue of shortage of manpower with regards to your profession in the state and if truly there is excess number of optometrists in Lagos State, what about the equity in the distribution? Our problems are targeted at addressing the problem of needless blindness and visual impairment in our peripheral underserved population.”

Cause of blindness

Major causes of blindness in many countries include cataracts; diabetic retinopathy; glaucoma and macular degeneration.

According to, opacities and clouding of the eye‘s lens, known as cataracts, may block the passage of light through the eye. It said that some people were born with cataracts, adding that the incidence increases with age.

Catarcts are are not painful. The only symptom is blurred, dimmed or double vision. Not all require surgery, but those large enough to cause serious visual problems require surgical removal of the lens, implantation of an intraocular lens and contact lenses.

The increased lifespan of diabetics has increased the incidence of diabetic retinopathy. The online publication explained that changes in the tiny blood vessels of the diabetic’s retina could cause blindness. “Abnormal blood vessels are formed, some may burst and the retina may even break loose from the back of the eye. Laser treatments to “seal” blood vessels or reattach the retina may help if undertaken early,” it added.

One in every seven or eight cases of blindness is due to glaucoma, in which the transparent fluid inside the forward part of the eye does not drain normally and excess pressure is built up within the eye. explained that if the pressure was not controlled, the delicate structure of the eye would be damaged, resulting in blurred vision, a narrowed field of sight and eventually total blindness. Early symptoms may include blurred vision, halos around lights and reduced side vision. In the acute type, there is great pain as eye pressure rises quickly from blocked drainage canals.

In macular degeneration, macula, which is the part of the retina which forms the center of the “picture,” breaks down, especially with increased age. The disorder may be slow or rapid, but peripheral vision usually remains good.


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