Tuesday, October 14, 2008

One million blind Nigerians

The nation’s disease burden is yet to show any signs of abetting going by the recent disclosure by a national survey that over one million Nigerians are blind while another 3.1 million are visually impaired. More disturbing is the very fact that 75 percent of such blindness was avoidable.

The two-year survey conducted by the Federal Ministry of Health between 2005 and 2007 also revealed that the scourge affects both sexes as well as all parts of the country.
Geographical distribution of the menacing ailment shows that the North West geo-political zone came first with 0.32 million blind people. It was followed by the North east and North Central geo-political zones which had 0.22 million and 0.18 million blind people respectively.

The South West came fourth with 0.15 million blind people. The South East and South South maintained a distant fifth and sixth with 0.13 and 0.12 million blind people respectively.

One veritable outcome of the survey is that there is no significant difference between the prevalence of blindness among men and women and that between urban and rural areas.
It is unfortunate that the cases of blindness were caused by treatable health conditions like cataract and glaucoma. While cataract accounted for 50 percent of the disease, glaucoma was responsible for another 16 percent.

Positively, the National Committee for the Prevention of Blindness in Nigeria has assured that about 50 percent of Nigerians suffering from eye ailment will have their sight fully restored by the use of lenses while another 15 percent will have their sight restored by surgery.

The growing incidence of blindness in all parts of the country is very alarming. The disturbing situation has shown that a lot of work needs to be done in the area of providing eye care services.
Concerned stakeholders should therefore put some measures in place to address the rampaging health problem. The health authorities of the three tiers of government should take it as a challenge to enlighten the public on the need to take eye care and medication very seriously.

The fact that 75 percent of the disease is avoidable is an indication that people have not been accessing eye care treatment when it mattered most. There is no doubt that some of the affected people may have presented their cases when the situation must have degenerated and gone far beyond medical redemption.

Besides, the seeming paucity of expertise in this aspect of medicine in our shores may have aggravated some of the reported cases. Many Nigerians have to contend with poor diagnosis and needless medication in some instances while some have lost their sight due to faulty treatment.
Considering the importance of sight to the individual, we urge those in charge of medical education in the country to step up measures to make ophthalmic medicine attractive to a significant number of our medical students.

We enjoin Nigerians to take eye care seriously as they take other ailments. Those in the habit of patronizing non-specialists should desist from such inimical health practice forthwith. Let all the state governments emulate the example of Lagos State Government which had been offering free eye care services since the return to democratic rule in 1999.

We believe that such free eye treatment will nip in the bud cases of cataract and glaucoma, the major causes of blindness in the country. Above all, let all Nigerians take adequate nutrition that aids eye longevity and sight. Since the areas with higher percentage of poverty in the country habour majority of cases of blindness, there is the need to decisively tackle the problem of poverty in the country.