Today is World Sight Day! 20 years after the first-ever World Sight Day was celebrated, the World Sight Day has grown to become the biggest event on the global eye care calendar, celebrated in no fewer than 175 countries of the world by a unified group of stakeholders in the eye care sector; eye care professionals, industry investors and other industry players, corporate organizations, government agencies, etc.
We use the event to create/increase awareness and disseminate valuable information on eye health issues to a target audience, in order to instigate appropriate actions that will help rid the world of the burden of blindness and visual impairment. This year, the Call to Action is “Eyecare Everywhere”, highlighting the central importance of good vision and eye health to everyone everywhere regardless of status, race or creed.
Around the world, about 253 million are either blind or have severely reduced vision; 80% of these people have vision problems arising from conditions that could have been avoided had we done something on time, 90% of them live in developing countries including Nigeria (where at least 10 million people who are either blind or have very severely reduced vision).
Among children, 1 out of every 3 has an eye problem yet in Nigeria, 90% of them have never had an eye examination. Honestly, we are sitting on dry gunpowder!
Effective strategies to reduce (and in the long run eliminate) the burden of blindness and visual impairment in Nigeria must include efforts to successfully and fully integrate primary eye care into the Primary Health Care system.
This is because, primary health care, apart from addressing health problems at the earliest stages of development thereby improving healthcare outcomes, has the added benefit of capturing the largest number of the populace, by virtue of being closest to them.
With blindness and visual impairment becoming epidemic in our dear country, the surest way to reverse the trend is in situating primary eye care within primary health care. There is a supply of over 4,000 optometrists in Nigeria ready, willing and able to drive this primary eye care revolution and drive blindness out of Nigeria.
I call on the government to set the pace in delivering primary eye care services to Nigerians by taking primary eye care to ALL primary health care centres, utilizing the army of optometrists at its disposal in the process. The NOA is open to constructive engagement on sustainable methods to implement this. There are practical strategies, tested in other places, which we are sure will work here too.
One of these is the Public-Private Partnership Initiative which has shown to be a sustainable vehicle to deliver affordable and accessible eye care to millions of people around the world including in Nigeria. We can provide detailed information on our improved model of this initiative, as our contribution to kicking blindness out of Nigeria.
To highlight the urgency of eliminating avoidable visual problems, the re-emergence of myopia (short-sightedness) as a public health/socio-physiological problem is a health embarrassment that could have been efficiently managed had we implemented this proposed strategy barely ten years ago!
That Nigeria is about to have 100 million citizens (including school children who cannot see the teacher and the board clearly from their desks) who cannot see far objects clearly unless they go close to them is worrisome.
Incidentally, a solution as simple as a pair of appropriate spectacles would save us the huge losses we suffer when these people cannot do simple tasks. Deploying the right resources across the nooks and crannies of Nigeria will surely be effective in addressing this emerging problem.
In taking eye care everywhere, the need for everyone to play their roles effectively and efficiently is key. All stakeholders must rise up to the challenge by being at their duty posts; government must lead, corporate organisations must support, professionals must be competent and committed, the public must utilize and appreciate; we all must do our best to get the system working for us.
Within the eye care team, there must be strength-in-depth. This must come from making maximum use of available human resources in eye health to solve the country’s eye health problem. To achieve this, the Nigerian Optometrist must be rightfully placed within the eye care spectrum in order to deliver most efficiently using the entire range of skills at his disposal.
It is pointless devoting energy towards inter-professional squabbles when unskilled men (quacks) are having a field day distributing blindness to our beloved Nigerians whom we claim to care about and have sworn to protect their eye health!
As a corporate body, the NOA prides herself as a responsible citizen. We have demonstrated this by always contributing our resources to the advancement of the eye health of Nigerians.
Currently, we are providing free comprehensive eye care services to Nigerian children between the ages of 5 and 14 every last Friday of the month. Our target is to reach 40,000 children with FREE QUALITY EYE CARE SERVICES. We invite the government and all other citizens to join us in this crusade to rid Nigeria of avoidable blindness because together, we can do more.
As we celebrate World Sight Day in Nigeria, I commend the efforts of all Optometrists in Nigeria for ensuring that eye care gets everywhere and raising the awareness in eye care across the length and breadth of Nigeria by the numerous activists lined up. Your collective resolve is yielding fruits.
I will end this message by making a clarion call in the words of Johann von Wolfgang Goethe: “Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do”.
Let’s do something today for the love of humanity.
Thank you all.
Dr Ozy Okonokhua, FNOA