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Why laser eye surgery remains elusive to many Nigerians

The technology, according to Dr Abiodun Olusesi , a consultant otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) at the National Hospital, Abuja, is not only applicable…

The technology, according to Dr Abiodun Olusesi , a consultant otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) at the National Hospital, Abuja, is not only applicable in virtually every sphere of human endeavour, it has practically revolutionalised the practice of medicine – particularly in the areas of carrying out  surgical procedures on sensitive organs of the body where dissection becomes problematic. “Laser can be used as a replacement for the knife. There are certain cancers that are in some undesirable areas in the body like an organ growing inside the gullet. They are so undesirable because the area is hidden and for you to go in and start dissecting them it gives you headache, but with laser you can focus on that particular spot and laser it out so that the functionality of the organ can be maintained.’’

On the comparative advantage of laser surgical procedures compared with the traditional method of the use of cold knife, Dr Olusesi said “laser is used basically to assist in excision – the same thing we do with cold knife during surgery. It helps in minimizing blood loss. During surgery, there are certain procedures in which blood loss is enormous, for instance, in paediatrics. But with laser, you can reduce it to barely insignificant loss. So, it is a high-tech gadget that enables us to carry out complex surgical procedures with so much ease as the case maybe.

“Laser has really simplified medicine, it’s like Midas touch. The use of laser in medicine is so wide and it also minimizes patients’ stay in the hospital,” he added.

Despite its efficacy and numerous applications in the areas of ophthalmology, dermatology, gynaecology, otolaryngology, paediatrics and dentistry, among other vital areas in medical practice, laser treatment facilities are hard to come by in the country as Dr Olusesi observes.   “From my experience it is not available in government hospitals, but very few private hospitals in Nigeria have it. The cost of accessing it is very expensive; charges are high since it is not government facility,” he noted.

“Another reason why we don’t have it in Nigeria is due to the fact that we are a developing country. And as a developing country, the government is more interested in investing in the fight against malaria, polio, the scourge of HIV/AIDS and other public health demands rather than in some expensive hi-tech facilities,” he said.

Laser in National Eye Centre, Kaduna

Officials of the National Eye Centre in Kaduna, however, disclosed that the centre does have the technology. The Head of Clinical Service of the Centre, Dr. Mohammed B. Alhassan, told Sunday Trust that those going to Cameroun or other neighbouring countries for laser eye surgeries are going there for free surgery and not because the National Eye Centre, Kaduna, did not have the technology. The centre posses the machines, he said, and it has been carrying out laser operations.

Dr Alhassan who conducted our correspondent round the equipments said the centre is carrying out the surgery at affordable rate, as patients pay between N2,000 to N7,000, depending on the level of complication.

Shedding light on how the equipment operates, he said they are used in treating vascular problems especially complication of diabetics and hypertension as it affects the eyes. According to him, laser eye surgery machine are also used in correcting short or long sightedness in humans.

“If anybody decides to go anywhere for surgery, we cannot stop him; but we have the machines here in the centre and they are working. You know Nigerians have special preference for white people. They believe that it is only the whites that can perform surgery without any hitch. The white syndrome must be changed for us to advance,’’ he added.

He urged Nigerians to change their perception about services rendered by Nigerian professionals, saying they can compete favourably with their counterpart worldwide. Dr Alhassan further said the services of the National Eye Centre have been strengthened to meet the growing number of patients trooping to the centre.

Head of Instrument and Engineering Unit of the centre Ibrahim Dauda Hi said the centre has four laser machines. “We have two Yag laser machine, one Arson laser machine and Diode laser machine,’’ he said.

The machines, he said, were acquired during the tenure of Professor Abiose Adenike while she was the chief medical director of the centre. He said each of the machine cost over 40,000 US dollars.

According to him, the diode laser machine broke down two years ago and that it has since been taken to the US for repairs. “Nobody could repair it in the whole of Africa, hence their decision to take it to US and very soon they are going to return (them) to us,” he said.

 Commenting on the services of the centre, a patient who gave his name as James Mathew said the service of the centre has improved compared to two years ago when patients spent weeks before seeing doctors.

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