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General News of Thursday, 8 December 2005

Source: GNA

800,000 Ghanaians have eye problems - GEF

Accra, Dec. 8, GNA - Available statistics at the Ghana Eye Foundation (GEF) indicates that 200,000 Ghanaians are completely blind while 600,000 others are visually impaired from causes, 75 per cent of which were avoidable.

This was contained in a GEF concept paper released at the official launch of GEF and the swearing in ceremony of its Board of Trustees in Accra.

The Board include Professor Agyeman Badu Akosa, Director-General of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), Ms Joyce Rosalind Aryee, Chief Executive, Ghana Chamber of Mines and three others. The Foundation set up by the GHS with the brand name "Sight for Ghana" is purposely to perpetually mobilise resources for eye care delivery. In that regard the GEF is to collaborate with the Government and other eye health organisations to achieve the aim of vision 2020: "The Right To See."

The GEF Concept paper noted that cataract, glaucoma, trachoma, childhood blindness, refractive errors and low visions as well as diabetes and sickle cell retinopathy accounted for the visual challenge facing the country.

"Cataract tops the causes of blindness with 100,000, glaucoma, 30,000, trachoma, 6,000, childhood blindness, 8,000, refractive errors and low vision, 10,000 diabetes and sickle cell retinopathy, 6,000," it said.

It noted that every year 20,000 people became blind in both eyes from cataract and an additional 4,000 people becoming blind in one eye due to the same causes, saying it occurred mostly in persons over age 65 years.

The paper noted that cataract was curable by optical operation and the other causes of blindness and visual problems were all preventable by early detection and treatment but due to the non-availability of resources in the form of equipment, supplies, consumables and human capacity they continued to plague victims and their families. It noted for instance that over 70 per cent of childhood blindness was preventable through good nutrition and accessibility to potable water but due to poverty many children suffered unduly.

"In Ghana, eye health financing remains a big problem. There is never sufficient funding for equipment, consumables, supplies and research and as a result eye care centres usually run out of consumables and supplies and the human capacity are forced to travel out due to frustration," it said.

The paper observed that only 45 per cent of eye health service delivery centres in the country had equipment for biometry to select the exact intra-ocular lens power, 75 per cent of centres did not have visual field assessment equipment and 85 per cent of optometrists practice in the urban areas to the detriment of the rural population. It noted that cataract operation was for instance covered in the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) but much more funding was needed to address the challenge of sight loss holistically.

"To provide an integrated, sustainable, equitable and quality eye health service to all Ghanaians, it is necessary to mobilise the needed resources, human, material and financial to treat eye diseases, eliminate avoidable blindness and provide rehabilitation for the blind," it said.

This called for partnership that involved civil society, corporate organisations and individuals working in concert with the Government and health workers for a Ghana free of avoidable blindness. Strategies adopted by the GEF to mobilise resources include the use of GEF Ambassadors for fund raising activities, increased advocacy for eye health, support service provision and operational research, monitoring and evaluation on eye health and prevention of blindness as well as awareness creation.

Prof. Akosa, who presided, advised that Ghanaians should feed their children with and consume lots of beans to gain the necessary nutrition needed to prevent childhood blindness.

He deplored the fact that 30 per cent to 35 per cent of Ghanaian suffered from malnutrition when Ghana had lots of highly affordable nutritious foods like beans.

Prof. Akosa noted that if each of the nine million adult population of Ghana gave a 100 cedis a month and each of the child population gave additional 50 cedis a month to the GEF, more than a billion cedis would be realised each month for the provision of eye health service. He, therefore, urged all Ghanaians to make it a point to assist in their own small way, saying that the foundation existed to assist all Ghanaians in time of need.

Ms Joyce Aryee, who launched the foundation, called for more volunteer to act as ambassadors to support the GEF action team to raise funds, saying that all the existing eye health organisations were still valid and would be needed in the Foundation's work.

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