Prioritising eye health – The Sun

The recent report that sight loss costs the global economy $411 billion in productivity annually has underscored the need for governments the world over to prioritise eye health. Of concern to our health authorities is the indication that Nigeria is among countries with rising cases of sight problems in the world. It is also frightening that 1.8 billion people may be affected by sight loss by 2050.

In commemorating this year’s World Sight Day (WSD), the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), the World Health Organisation (WHO), ophthalmologists and other experts have made a case for increased public awareness of blindness and vision impairment as major international public health issues. WSD, which is observed every year on the second Thursday of October, is a global event designed to draw attention on blindness and vision impairment.

The 2021 WSD was marked on October 14. The global event was originally initiated by the SightFirstCampaign of Lions Club International Foundation in 2000. The WSD is coordinated by IAPB. The theme of this year’s WSD is #LoveYourEyes, which emphasises the need for us to be aware of our own eye health.

Available statistics from WHO show that more than one billion people worldwide have no access to eye services. Eye health has become so important because of its impact on education, employment, quality of life, poverty and so many other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Globally, at least 2.2 billion people reportedly have a near or distance vision impairment. And in at least 1 billion or almost half of these cases, vision impairment could have been prevented or is yet to be addressed. According to medical experts, the leading causes of vision impairment and blindness are uncorrected refraction errors and cataracts. Others are age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, corneal opacity and trachoma.

Although the majority of people with vision impairment and blindness are over the age of 50 years, experts contend that vision loss can affect people of all ages. We decry the disturbing statistics of sight loss and the colossal loss of revenue associated with eye disorder. With our debilitating health situation, the extent of sight loss in Nigeria is bound to increase. Since we are not faring so well in eye health, we call on the Federal Government and indeed all tiers of government to pay priority attention to eye care by deploying more funds for national blindness prevention programmes.

The current annual budgetary allocation to health, which is below five per cent, is too meagre to bear the nation’s rising disease burden. The brain drain in the sector has not helped matters. Nigerians take to medical tourism because the facilities at home are inadequate and in some cases, the expertise may not be there.

Besides, the government should embark on public enlightenment on prevention of blindness across the country. We also call on major eye care non-governmental organisations to assist the government in educating target audiences about prevention of blindness. Corporate organisations can also be part of the eye care enlightenment campaign. Eye care must be made affordable and accessible to all Nigerians. Moreover, government must take great interest in training more ophthalmologists and other professionals associated with eye health.

Since the loss of sight has impact on other sectors, we enjoin Nigerians to cultivate the habit of going for eye test at least once a year. We say this bearing in mind that early detection of the eye problem will lead to cure. For instance, early detection of cataract and glaucoma can lead to cure.

The importance of eye health cannot be overemphasised because without the eye, not much can be achieved. To achieve optimum eye health, let government consider subsidising eye care in view of its exorbitant cost. Government can also initiate free eye test in designated government hospitals across the six geo-political zones. In fact, there is need for eye centre in government general hospitals. Considering the role of diet on eye health, we advise Nigerians to ensure that they take balanced diet and go for eye examination once in a while.

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