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Reasons people are going blind

Since the last few years, there have been massive turnout of people with eye related diseases, and those who have already gone blind at hospitals,…

Since the last few years, there have been massive turnout of people with eye related diseases, and those who have already gone blind at hospitals, and wherever free eye screening and treatment programmes are organised by government and non-governmental organisations.
Outreach programmes organised for 50 people, for instance, usually witness turnout of thousands of people in need of drugs, medicated glasses or one surgery or the other.
Such programmes are nowadays organised by religious and corporate organisations, National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members, military and paramilitary organisations,  international donors and Nigerians in Diaspora. They offer free surgeries and outreaches for those who need treatment to salvage or restore their sight.
“The eye is not only the window to the soul, but sight is the chief of all senses in the human body, and we can go to any length to protect and preserve it,” said an opthalmologist, Dr. Emenike Prince Henry, who is also a 2015 batch ‘B’ corps member.
 Henry who was speaking when he organised a free eye screening and treatment exercise in Kaduna recently and attended by over 2,000 residents benefitted, said, “Whatever impairs our vision results to incapacitation and affects our survival and productivity directly or indirectly.”
 Experts have said that many factors have led to this situation among a large section of the population. They identified glaucoma and cataract as the major causes of blindness in Nigeria.
A resident doctor and an opthalmologist with the National Eye Centre, Kaduna, Dr. Eze Ugochukwu, in an interview said a number of things are responsible for the rising cases of eye diseases and blindness in Nigeria.
According to him, the major cause of blindness among Nigerians is cataract.
“It is possible we are beginning to diagnose more than we do before. It also depends on the type of eye illness. We have many cases of cataract now because people are living long to the age of having age related cataract. Some others run in the family.
“People also seem to go to hospital more than they did before. Similarly, in the area of attitude, more people have understood the reason to have regular eye check-ups so as to detect any problem early and manage them appropriately,” he explained.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) also said the major cause of blindness in Nigeria is age-related cataract.
 Other causes include un-corrected or refractive error, “that is people who either refused to use glasses or who are ignorant. Other eye illnesses are glaucoma, river blindness and diabetic retinopathy among others.
“Diabetic retinopathy is an eye illness that occurs in people that are diabetic. It is on the rise because of the increase in cases of diabetes. Nigeria is said to have the highest burden of diabetes in the world,” Dr. Ugochukwu said.
Nigeria also has high burden of river blindness because of close location to rivers.
He also identified cataract, glaucoma and refractive error as major causes of blindness in children.
Asked if there is a cure for some of the eyes illnesses, Dr. Ugochukwu stated that diabetic eye disease cannot be cured but can only be managed the way diabetes can be managed.
“If things are done well, a diabetic patient may not go blind throughout his life time.
“River blindness on its own part can be cured but attention seems to be focused on prevention rather than cure,” he also said.
A registrar in Opthalmology at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU) Teaching Hospital, Bauchi, Dr. Rukayya Musbahu Na’iya, said cataract is the most prevalent eye disease being reported by patients, and treated by specialists at the hospital.
 She said next to cataract is glaucoma, adding that unlike cataract which shows early warning signs, glaucoma slowly affects the optic nerves bringing total blindness.
 She said the major causes of cataract are aging, systemic illnesses such as diabetes; traumatic cataract may affect all age categories while children may be affected by cataract through congenital means.
 Dr. Na’iya said the hospital’s eye clinic treats an average of 30 to 50 patients daily.
 “About 400 patients had surgeries to treat cataract, glaucoma and other eye diseases including trauma related cases but only four had complications and slow recovery period,” she said.
 During a free cataract surgery and treatment for people in the 25 local government areas of Niger State, the Chief Medical Director, General Hospital, Minna who also headed the medical team, Dr Isah Jibril, said more than 15,000 people were estimated to have cataract in the state.
 He said that necessitated the pilot scheme aimed at reducing cataract among the people carried out by the Niger State government in collaboration with the International Health Organisation.
 Also during a free eye surgery conducted by military specialists from the 79 Composite Group of the Nigeria Air Force, Maiduguri, Borno State for internally displaced persons (IDPs), the Chief Consultant, Dr. Olufemi Adewale, said over 1.2 million Nigerians are blind and that they are mostly in the northern part of the country, adding that a lot of the IDPs had trachoma which is usually found in dry areas with dusty wind.
 Commanding officer of the centre, Wing Commander S. N. Irmiya, had said the Chief of Air Staff took care of the total cost of the surgery which included feeding, admission fee and drugs.
 A displaced person from Bama town, who benefitted from the exercise, Umaru Muhammad, said the operation carried out on his eyes made him to see after many years of blindness.
 What should be done to protect the eyes, reduce blindness?
 The resident doctor with the National Eye Centre, Kaduna, Dr. Eze Ugochukwu, advised Nigerians to eat more of natural foods that are rich in vitamins rather than processed food.
“Poorly processed garri should also be avoided because it is not good for the eyes,” he advised.
He also urged government and other stakeholders to increase sensitisation exercises and campaigns on the prevention and management of eye diseases amongst the populace.
Dr. Emelike Prince-Henry, an ophthalmologist called on the federal government to establish eye-care units in primary health care centres across the country, saying it would assist in reducing the rate of blindness especially in rural communities.
He said: “Based on existing surveys and statistics, people in the rural and sub-urban areas are worse hit when it comes to debilitating eye conditions, low vision and total blindness. The only way to wipe out preventable blindness is by focusing on the grassroots.
“Most of the rural dwellers still cling on a lot of crude practices that have done more harm than good to their eyes. For instance, in this age, some people still instill substances including urine and breast milk in their eyes to cure conjunctivitis.”
 Prince-Henry who is an official of Gwamna Awan General Hospital in Kaduna added that this underscores the need for sensitization, awareness campaigns and need for standby doctors and optometrists in the communities, and Primary Health Centres (PHCs) to render first hand eye-care services and proper counselling to the people.
He urged both state and local government authorities to take up mini projects to save the eyes of millions of people that are gradually going blind on a daily basis because of either ignorance, lack of basic eye-care facilities or lack of fund to visit expanded facilities.

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