Between eye health care and national development

eye-health-careThe primacy of the eye as an indispensable organ in the body cannot be over-emphasised. If you are in doubt, close your eyes for 10 seconds and in that brief period, try to walk around or carry out an activity. The result is better imagined. This explains why the eyes are referred to as the light of the body. Therefore, if the eyes are impaired, the whole body sits in darkness. No one deserves to be without sight or vision.

Globally, research has shown that the prevalence of blindness is five-fold higher in poor than rich countries. It is also estimated that about 285 million people are vision-impaired globally with up to 80% of these cases of impairment due to treatable or preventable causes. Worse still is the fact that over 90% of these people live in low and middle income countries and proportionately more in Africa. In general, the most remote and poorest areas of low-income countries have the least access to eye care services.

The impact of unmet eye care needs in the country is compounded by barriers which include unavailability of professional eye health care services at the primary and secondary health centres, limited engagement with communities, a shortage of appropriately skilled health personnel, paucity of information about eye health from a health systems strengthening approach with poor service delivery, insufficient equipment and supplies, lack of financing, leadership and governance as major trademarks of the problem.

Poverty and eye health, including vision disability from visual impairment and blindness are interrelated. The relationship between poverty and eye health can be interpreted as being two-fold – poverty may be a cause of poor eye health and poor eye health may lead to or deepen poverty.

Visual disability impacts negatively on an individual’s quality of life and their functionality and has implications on the national economy as epitomised by the fact that income and livelihood are affected, as well as access to basic services such as education, healthcare, nutrition and development. Blindness is most likely to interfere with an individual’s life goals such as achieving material wealth, social status and planning for the future.

In addition, people with disabilities, such as blindness, may be further impacted by a disturbance of mental health, which will affect their life goals and thus perpetuate their poverty. It, therefore, goes without saying that healthy eyes and good vision play a critical role in the development of an individual and how the individual interacts with others in society with a view to wealth creation and national productivity.

In view of the socioeconomic significance of blindness which often results in the loss of man-hours to the Nigerian economy, concrete and urgent steps are required to remedy the situation. When situated against the current prism as articulated above, the recent move by corporate bodies like Guinness Nigeria to expand facilities and renovate infrastructure at the Guinness Eye Hospital, Onitsha can only be described as auspicious and timely.

“As a company, our focus on eye care reflects our recognition of the far-reaching impact that good eyesight can have on the overall health and wellbeing of everyone. We are here to celebrate the notable accomplishments which the Guinness Eye Hospital, Onitsha, has delivered to many Nigerians. Our investment in the various eye hospitals is keeping in line with our commitment to make a positive impact on the communities in which we operate. By helping Nigerians to preserve their sight, we play a strong role in enhancing their ability to learn, earn an income and get the best out of life”, the company’s chief executive said recently.

It is a commonly acknowledged fact that government alone cannot carry the burden of providing adequate health care delivery as such corporate bodies need to lend a helping hand to provide succour and comfort to those in need of health care delivery. To further lend credence to this position, the World Health Organisation’s Global Action Plan 2014-2019, which aims to reduce avoidable visual impairment as a global public health problem and to secure access to rehabilitation services for the visually impaired posits that developing innovative approaches to prevent and cure eye diseases via private-public partnership is the way to go.

In its 66 years of operating in Nigeria, what Guinness Nigeria has demonstrated through its investment in eye health care in the country is that corporate bodies can indeed make a difference. One can only imagine the seismic shift that would occur in our heath sector, if other corporate bodies took a cue from this model and invested in other pain points within the health landscape.

The greatest gift any human can receive is the power to retain or regain his or her sight, especially when they have been deprived of it. Guinness Nigeria, through its eye hospitals has demonstrated unrivalled passion and execution in the delivery of social good to the citizenry. Here is hoping that other well-meaning organisations especially in the private sector would come up with similar initiatives that would complement government’s efforts in improving the quality of lives in our communities.
• Adekunle, a policy analyst, resides in Lagos

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