Blindness as defined by the IOWA Department for the Blind is a person whose central visual acuity is 20/200 (6/60) or less in the better eye with correction (spectacle or contact lenses) or has a visual field of less than 20 degrees.
Functionally, we can say a person is blind when the vision is so poor that he or she is unable to perform his or her activities of daily living. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are 39 million people living with blindness and a further 246 million people are living with low vision or visual impairment.
These people have their blindness caused by many conditions, including cataract, glaucoma, uncorrected refractive errors (short sightedness, farsightedness and/or astigmatism) and childhood blindness.
For the purposes of this article, childhood blindness will be focussed on. Childhood blindness, as the name suggests, is blindness in children.
A better definition as postulated by the WHO is “Childhood blindness refers to a group of diseases and conditions occurring in childhood or early adolescence, which, if left untreated, results in blindness or severe visual impairment that are likely to be untreatable later in life”.
According to the WHO, there are an estimated 1.4 million children who are blind; 45% of this estimated number are blind from preventable or avoidable causes.
The situation in low-income countries is more serious as 1.5 in every 1,000 children are blind from conditions that are preventable.
In high-income countries, the situation is far different, where we have 0.3 in every 1,000 children being blind.
These statistics tend to support the view that the economic situation has an effect on the level or number of children affected with blindness.
Some of the major causes of childhood blindness include corneal scarring from vitamin A deficiency and measles, cataracts, glaucoma, uncorrected refractive errors and retinopathy of prematurity, just to mention a few. Management of most of these conditions are relatively inexpensive, but the most important thing is to discover these conditions early so that the appropriate measures can be put in place before blindness sets in.
Visual impairment is also of major importance when it comes to childhood blindness.
This is usually caused by uncorrected refractive errors and cataracts as indicated in a research conducted by Operation Eyesight Universal in Ghana.
Management of refractive errors is by the use of spectacle or contact lenses or laser surgery.
Cataracts are also managed with glasses as a first line measure until such a time that it becomes totally ineffective. It is at that time that surgery is indicated.
Many strategies have been adopted by various countries to try to reduce the menace of childhood blondness and have so far been quite effective. The national strategies are founded basically on eye screenings, training of professionals and management of eye conditions.
Ghana as a country has no known policy strategy for tackling the menace of childhood blindness so various organisations approach it in various ways.
The Third Eyecare and Vision Centre approach:
Third Eyecare and vision centre is an eye care provider located in Accra that manages all forms of eye conditions among all ages.
Its corporate social responsibility objective is to reduce the incidence of childhood blindness in Ghana and the world as a whole. It employs various programmes in trying to achieve this objective:
1. Training of teachers to identify eye conditions among pupils
This programme involves the training of school teachers on how to identify various eye conditions among pupils by observing children’s behaviour in class, as well as other signs of eye diseases.
Teachers are also trained on how to conduct visual acuity assessment with the visual acuity charts and what to do when they find children exhibiting signs of various eye conditions.
Some of the schools that have benefitted from this training include Roman Ridge School, Ghana International School, Merton International School, Saps School, North Ridge Lyceum, De Youngster International School, Telekubokazo D/A Junior High School, Salman Junior High School, Aluku D/A junior High School, Akango Catholic Junior High School, Nyaneba Model Junior High School, Kikam Methodist Junior High School, Nkroful Methodist Junior High School, Kikam SDA Junior High School, Nkroful Catholic Junior High School and Anwia Methodist Junior High School.
2. Community school screening programmes (rural schools)
In this programme, schools in poor communities in rural Ghana are selected, and every child in the selected school with the express consent of the parents or guardians is taken through comprehensive eye examinations by optometrists.
Those pupils screened who have conditions that require optical or medical management or both are given the glasses or drugs or both for free. Absolutely free - at no cost to the child, parent or guardian.
The children with conditions that require surgical management are referred to eye care centres that provide such services.
Some schools that have benefitted from this programme include Telekubokazo D/A Junior High School, Salman Junior High School, Aluku D/A junior High School, Akango Catholic Junior High School, Nyaneba Model Junior High School, Kikam Methodist Junior High School, Nkroful Methodist Junior High School, Kikam SDA Junior High School, Nkroful Catholic Junior High School and Anwia Methodist Junior High School.
3. Kiddie Eyecare Day
It is a day set aside in October every year where children of all walks of life are invited through the media to come have their eyes examined comprehensively by optometrists and those with eye conditions that require drugs or glasses or both are given them for FREE.
This is done in a fun-fair environment to ensure that children also learn and play while they have their eyes examined. Everything is absolutely FREE on the day.
This programme has been held twice already – 2015 and 2016. In 2015, about 600 people went through the process and 400 of them benefitted from free eye drops.
However, in 2016, 1,262 children underwent the free eye examination, of which 740 got drugs for free while 185 got glasses for free.
This year, KIDDIE EYECARE DAY comes off on Saturday, October 28, 2017 on the premises of Sunny FM at North Ridge from 8am to 5pm.
The menace of childhood blindness can only be reduced and eventually eradicated if the job is not left entirely to eye care professionals. Parents, teachers, corporate bodies and government must all come on board and team up with the eye care team to fight this menace. It is only when this is done that we will realise the full benefits or impact it will have on economic and social growth.
Tel: 0503881093/0266462080 /0543287008