Fresh fears in Southeast over increasing cases of blindness
• Ophthalmologists’ Forum, Pfizer call for urgent action
A new wave of worry has enveloped the southeast with the discovery that half of its active population may go blind if nothing was done to check the rising trend of glaucoma and other eyes related diseases ravaging the zone.
It was gathered that about ten years ago, a group of ophthalmologists embarked on a study in Nigeria for the eyes and came up with the startling revelation that the southeast has the highest prevalence of severe visual impairment and glaucoma when compared with other zones in the country.
The study indicated severe visual impairment of two per cent in young people between the ages of 40 and 42 years and glaucoma blindness of 1.2 per cent among Igbos; stressing that it was the highest when compared with other zones of the country.
Since the study was conducted, experts said that measures taken to check it had not yielded the desired results, stressing that rather than reducing, further recent studies conducted indicated that the trend is on the increase, raising fears that the zone’s active population may be visually depressed.
Perturbed by the growing trend, ophthalmologists in the southeast, who gathered in Enugu last week in what was described as “Southeast Ophthalmologists Forum” to brain storm on the development said that time had come for stakeholders, governments among others to take a holistic approach that would save the active population of the zone from going blind.
Speaking at the forum organized in conjunction with Pfizer Nigeria, President, Ophthalmologist Society of Nigeria (OSN), Prof. Sebastine Nwosu, stated that the gathering followed the discovery that several efforts by groups and individuals have not yielded the required dividend, stressing that the figures obtained showed that southeast was still endangered.
He said: “As eye people, when we got this result, we were very uncomfortable and we felt that we really need to do sometime about it, otherwise our training will be in vain. So we felt we could come together to look at this and ask the question on why it is so and not just to ask the question but what are we going to do about it and as doctors if we fail to do anything we will have failed. So the essence of the meeting is to think about all the result we have and how we can solve the problem.”
Given the statistics about the disease, he said that “severe visual impairment of persons of over 40 years is two percent and the highest in the southeast, the Glaucoma blindness in the southeast is 1.2 percent compared to other zones where they have zero percent,” adding that Glaucoma blindness is commonest in all parts of southeast.
“It is like one out of every 100 people here have Glaucoma and in other places it may be one out of 500 people. You can see how bad it is for us. The disease that affects the back of the eye is the commonest in the southeast and this one is about one percent. When we say among the Igbos; there are some Igbos in the Delta, Rivers and Kogi and it is about eight percent. Many people that move about in Enugu are blind and for all these there are many causes, but the one caused by glaucoma is commonest here than any other part of Nigeria and the bad thing about the blindness caused by the glaucoma is that if you don’t catch it early enough, the person becomes permanently blind. It is unlike blindness caused by cataract, which could also be treated. This blindness doesn’t come with symptoms; it doesn’t cause pain. It is a dangerous disease,” he said.
On why the prevalence, Chairperson, Southeast Ophthalmologists Forum and former Deputy Vice Chancellor, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus (UNEC), Prof Rich Umeh, stated that the thinking of the forum was that the disease is genetic.
“It is difficult to know, but we think it is genetic. It is not out of what we eat or lifestyle but may have a genetic basis. We will do more research to find out why we are worst hit. But the simple approach is to go for regular eye check up at least once in a year, otherwise we may have more blind people in this part of the country,” she said.
“We have continued to do studies in the southeast segmentally and it was discovered that the figures kept recurring. We may have more blind people. Studies have been done, the data was analyzed and we moved into action, like going to the radio to educate people, moving into rural areas to treat people, we thought that with these interventions, the prevalence would have come down but the issue is on the rise. We discovered that most in the young and old people. That is why we called our colleagues together to brainstorm on whether we can change strategy. The intervention has been very little. We want to do a kind of organized outreach, organized sensitization so that it will be synchronized. We will not prevent people from getting Glaucoma but if we catch them early, we will prevent them from getting blind because there is treatment for it. There is surgery, there is… we need to partner with our policy makers, to create awareness among others. If people have their eyes checked early enough it will be taken care of,” she added.
Director Corporate Affairs, Pfizer Nigeria and East Africa region, Margaret Olele, said the forum was part of the contribution of the company to reduce the burden of Glaucoma and other eyes related diseases, especially in the southeast zone.
She said: “Pfizer is committed to contributing positively to patient care in our communities whilst exploring more opportunities with relevant stakeholders to reduce the burden of Glaucoma. The Glaucoma Symposium is designed to update health care professionals on the latest advances in medical and surgical management of Glaucoma. It highlights insights in Glaucoma management, medications, surgical techniques and the burden of Glaucoma in Sub- Saharan Africa and Nigeria.”