Strengthening eye care services to eliminate avoidable visual impairment

It is crystal clear that eye health is a critical aspect that has a crucial role in overall well-being; its importance cannot be overstated.

In Ethiopia, like many of the developing countries, eye related problems are posing huge challenges to individuals and communities.

To curb eye diseases and reduce the risk of complete blindness and partial visual impairments, governments and stakeholders working on the area are engaged in providing service to citizens through formulating various approaches. Countries in accordance with their development strategies and policies are promoting eye health and working determinedly to address the concern and avert the challenges.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), estimated to be over 1.5 million Ethiopians are blind, and approximately four million individuals suffer from moderate to severe visual impairments. According to the report, most common eye health problems in the country are cataracts, refractive errors, trachoma, glaucoma, and corneal diseases.

The Ethiopia Herald approached Oromia State Health Bureau and Ophthalmological Society of Ethiopia (OSE) to share insights on ways to improve eye care.

Oromia Health Bureau Disease Prevention and Control Directorate Director Dereje Adugna said that, concerted efforts are underway to reduce the burden of eye health problems and improve the overall well-being of the people through regular and outreach programs designed to address the challenges and arrest avoidable blindness and partial visual impairments.

“The Bureau had carried out over twenty thousand surgeries for trachoma and sixteen thousand for cataracts to correct eye defects; however, we are still behind the elimination margins with a high number of cases that is two hundred thousand. This calls us for more engagements and commitments,” he noted.

The primary eye care centers provide both medication and undertaking awareness raising activities among the vulnerable communities about the eye health, the care that should be taken to maintain a healthy eye as well as visit health institutions in case of illnesses.

According to him, because the State has shortages of ophthalmologists, they follow outreach arrangement programs in a bid to address health problems of a number of communities in the hinterlands.

Likewise, to address shortage of skilled human power, the State is working along with the Ministry of Health. The two bodies agreed to send general medical practitioners to the Ophthalmology specialization program; the Bureau believes that this could improve the scarcity.

What is more, Oromia State has trained and deployed 550 integrated eye care workers to the hinterlands with the duty and responsibility to provide eye care services and aware rural people regarding eye health problems at the local health facilities and strengthening the capacity of health institutions to serve as referral spots for further treatment.

The State’s Health Bureau is also working along with local and international development partners like Himalayas to improve eye care in the State. The Bureau also urged respective stakeholders to enhance effort in providing technical and financial support that could help in providing effective eye care services to communities thereby giving relief to those who are suffering from cataracts and refractive errors as well as trachoma, glaucoma, and corneal diseases.

President of the Ophthalmological Society of Ethiopia (OSE), and Glaucoma Specialist, at St. Paul’s Hospital Millennium Medical College Associate Prof. Girum Woldegebreal (MD), for his part said that the Ophthalmological Society of Ethiopia Association (OSE) was established with the aim to improve the quality of eye care in Ethiopia and eliminate avoidable blindness.

According to a national survey that was done more than a decade ago, the prevalence of blindness in Ethiopia was 1.6 % and low vision was 3.7 %. A recent systematic review has also found a similar prevalence of blindness. Considering the estimated total population of the country as 120 million, nearly 2 million people are blind and 4 and half million people are with low vision. Most importantly, nearly 85 % of the causes of blindness and low vision are either preventable or treatable.

He further noted that, prevalence of blindness and low vision in Ethiopia is one of the highest in Sub- Saharan countries and it is a major public health problem for various reasons. The infrastructure available and the number of eye health professionals working in the country compared to the large population are very limited. Furthermore there is an issue of accessibility since the majority of the populations are residing in rural areas and far from eye care facilities. Resources allocated for eye health are also very limited.

According to him, the most common cause of blindness in our country is cataract, which accounts for half of the burden of blindness. Similar major causes are scarring of cornea that comes to happen due to trachoma and other causes, such as refractive errors and glaucoma.

Responding to the need to improve eye care, Girum, who is also an Ophthalmologist Consultant at WGGA Eye Center, said that eye health is essential because poor eye health has a number of various impacts beyond an individual level. Eye health is closely related with the socioeconomic condition of a nation; and is important for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Poverty is both a cause and a consequence for poor eye health. Improved eye health can increase household income which in turn reduces hunger. Eye health is key to ensuring good health, mental health and wellbeing. It also has a positive impact on school enrolment, educational attainment and learning.

Mentioning that, improving the quality of eye care in Ethiopia and eliminating avoidable blindness is possible through working in unison, he said that this can be achieved by enhancing ophthalmic service provision, by conducting different outreach campaigns, enhancing training of ophthalmic personnel, facilitating exchange of knowledge and experience and funding research.

In this regard, OSE is strongly advocating for blindness and visual impairment to be a development agenda and priority to be given by the concerned stakeholders.

OSE is working with various governmental, regional and international organizations. At the Federal Ministry of Health level, OSE is an active member of the national committee established for the prevention of blindness. OSE is also a member of the health professional council.

He finally said that, OSE is a member of the International Council of Ophthalmologists/ The International Federation of Ophthalmological Societies (ICO/IFOS) and College of Ophthalmologists for Eastern, Central and Southern Africa (COECSA). The OSE is represented in the executive committee of the National Committee for Prevention of Blindness (NCPB) as the Vice Chairman. OSE is also on the Board of Trustees (BOT) of the Eye Bank of Ethiopia (EBE).



Recommended For You