World Sight Day: Poor awareness, inaccessible eye services causing blindness in Nigeria –Minister

Nigeria’s minister of health, Osagie Ehanire, has said low awareness and inaccessibility to appropriate eye services contribute to increased blindness cases in the country.

Mr Ehanire disclosed this in Abuja on Thursday at an event to commemorate the 2021 World Sight Day (WSD).

Represented by the ministry’s permanent secretary, Mamman Mahmuda, he said inaccessibility of eye care services is one of the reasons many Nigerians remain visually impaired.

He said many people still seek unorthodox eye care which leads to disastrous treatment outcomes.

World Sight Day

The WSD is an annual event marked on the second Thursday of October to create awareness on issues surrounding blindness.

The day seeks to spread awareness and focus attention on the global issue of avoidable blindness and visual impairment.

The theme of this year’s celebration is “Love your Eyes” and the slogan is “Save Your Sight.”

The minister said vision is important in the socio-economic development of the people. He said Nigeria with other member states at the United Nations General Assembly recently adopted the vision for everyone; accelerating action to achieve the sustainable development goals.

The goal is aimed at committing the international community to eye health for the 1.1 billion people who may be living with preventable sight loss by 2030.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 2.2 billion people, a quarter of the world’s population – have a visual impairment, with four times as many people affected in low and middle-income countries.

Prevalence rate

Mr Ehanire said Nigeria has a prevalence of 0.78 per cent for blindness, saying 84 per cent of these blinding diseases are avoidable.

He said some of them are caused by cataracts, glaucoma, refractive errors, uncorrected aphakia, harmful traditional eye practices, corneal opacities, and Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), like trachoma and onchocerciasis.

He said the government’s initiative, Primary Eye Care (PEC) empowers people to take responsibility for their eye health.

He said PEC, which is an integrated, participatory and inclusive of eye health component of primary health care consists of preventive, curative, and rehabilitative services.

“PEC, therefore, empowers the people to participate in taking responsibility for their eye health, preventing and treating conditions that may lead to visual loss, as well as rehabilitation of those who are already blind.

“We believe that the integration of PEC into PHC will potentially change the pattern of eye care services in Nigeria to a level where the nationwide blindness prevention efforts would start from the grassroots instead of from the urban hospitals as is the case today,” he said.

Increased access to services

Mr Ehanire explained that increasing access to quality eye care services especially to the underserved in Nigeria would help the country in achieving the SDGs.

He said this will further improve opportunities for Nigerians to attend to their educational needs, improve their productivity at workplaces, increase the overall quality of life, and ultimately increase the life expectancy of this nation.

In her remarks, Senior Programme Manager for Eye Health, Sightsavers, Selben Penzin, said nearly every person on earth would experience an eye disorder in life and this gets more possible as they get older.

Mr Penzin said more than half of the world’s vision loss is preventable or treatable, but a lack of quality eye care services means many people cannot access the care they need.

“It is estimated that globally, hundreds of billions of dollars are lost in productivity each year because of visual impairment and blindness,” she said.

Mr Penzin explained that since 1950, Sightsavers has collaborated with ministries of health and partners in more than 30 countries to eliminate avoidable blindness.

“On this WSD 2021, let’s remember that there are millions of people in this country who can be given the gift of sight, the gift of light if you empower them,” she added.

She, therefore, urged the government to ensure that everyone, everywhere can access eye care including women, people with disabilities and other marginalised groups in eye health programmes and their design.

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