• Monday, May 20, 2024
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BusinessDay

Commemorating World Sight Day

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As we join the rest of the world to celebrate the World Sight Day today, we note that humans have five senses: the eyes to see, the tongue to taste, the nose to smell, the ears to hear, and the skin to touch. But by far the most important organ of sense are our eyes. According to experts, about 80 per cent of all impressions are perceived by means of the sight; and if other senses such as taste or smell stop working, it is the eyes that best protect us from danger.

In May 2013 the 66th World Health Assembly unanimously approved the Global Action Plan for the Prevention of Avoidable Blindness and Visual Impairment 2014-2019. The vision of the global action plan is a world in which nobody is needlessly visually impaired, where those with unavoidable vision loss can achieve their full potential, and where there is universal access to comprehensive eye care services.

In this regard, the Lagos branch of the Nigerian Optometric Association has called on Nigerians to pay more attention to their eyes in order to prevent avoidable blindness. According to the association, statistics revealed that over one million Nigerian adults are blind, while additional three million are visually impaired.

A survey of blindness and low vision, initiated by the Federal Ministry of Health and supported by the non-governmental organisation, Sightsavers, showed that 42 out of every 100 adults aged 40 and above are suffering from visual impairment; Overall, two out of three Nigerians are blind from causes which could be avoided, such as cataract, which is the single commonest cause of blindness.

Furthermore, statistics show that approximately 285 million people worldwide live with low vision and blindness; of these, 39 million people are blind and 246 million have moderate or severe visual impairment; 90 percent of blind people live in low-income countries; 80 percent of visual impairment is avoidable – readily treatable and/or preventable; restorations of sight, and blindness prevention strategies are among the most cost-effective interventions in health care; an estimated 19 million children are visually impaired; and about 65 percent of all people who are visually impaired are aged 50 and older, while this age group comprises only 20 percent of the world’s population.

In terms of challenges, records reveal that there is a high proportion of people who cannot access eye health services around the world due to: serious shortages in trained personnel, particularly in Africa; low surgical rates and irregular outreach to the poorest and rural populations; for many poor and marginalised people the cost of treatment can be prohibitive; and lack of appropriate technologies and discrimination which cause further difficulties in access to eye health for vulnerable groups of people such as the poor, minorities, persons with disability and women.

Consequently, some experts have advocated that it is essential the eye health community get involved in the process of defining a new and significantly improved development framework for post 2015 MDGs, given that the MDGs were flawed for ignoring inequities and criticised for vertical approaches to health.

We therefore urge government to provide comprehensive eye care services for major causes of visual impairment covering promotion, prevention, rehabilitation and care; address acute shortage in every cadre of eye health – nurses, optometrists, ophthalmologists etc.; ensure equitable access to eye health personnel; ensure that eye care is well funded and integrated into health care, while eliminating social and economic obstacles by ensuring that point-of-care payment should not prevent access and should be free for the poorest in the country.