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General News of Monday, 8 October 2007

Source: GNA

GHS briefs media on World Sight Day

Accra, Oct. 8, GNA - Dr. Oscar Debrah, Head of the Eye Unit of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), on Monday urged parents and the public to help check blindness among children. He said almost 50 per cent of the world's 1.4 million blind children are needlessly blind. The blind population of children in Ghana is estimated at about 8,000

Mr Debrah gave these frightening statistic at a media briefing in Accra on the World Sight Day, which falls on October 11. The global event, which is marked annually to create awareness of blindness as a public health issue and stress the need to control the major causes of preventable blindness among others, would be launched at Apam in the Central Region under the national theme: "Healthy Eyes for Healthy Children."

He said in Ghana cataract accounted for 14 per cent of blindness in children, while corneal scar and glaucoma accounted for 34 and 18 percent of cases of childhood blindness respectively. Mr Debrah said it was worrying to note the low life expectancy rate of blind children in the country, adding that studies had indicated that about 50 to 60 per cent of these children died within their first and second years of life. "This is because these children often suffer from the same deficiencies and illnesses that account for infant and under-five mortality."

Mr Debrah said eye care specialists would also deployed to Apam, Swedru and Winneba districts in the Central Region to screen and offer specialised and referral services to the people. He stated that this year's event focused mainly on blindness and visual impairment in children and served as a wake-up call on government and all stakeholders to give time and attention to the problem, while devoting resources to curbing preventable blindness, especially in children in the country. Mr. Debrah mentioned some of the causes of avoidable blindness as trachoma, a situation, which, he said, could be controlled by frequent washing of the face with clean water. Others are Vitamin A deficiency in children, malnutrition, measles, trauma, tumour and the application of harmful traditional medicines. He said among those who even survived death, about 90 per cent were said to be out of school and therefore had no meaningful future or hope for future development.

Mr Debrah said most of these blind cases could be treated through simple surgery and even with corrective measures such as clinical diagnoses and the prescription of contact lenses to restore the eye. He said the high rate of blindness in children if not checked, could have a long term effect on national productivity as children affected both directly and indirectly had limited access to education and self-development opportunities.

Mr Debrah said early intervention was therefore key to avoiding many blind conditions in children and called for critical prenatal and antenatal care to detect early signs of vitamin A deficiencies, malnutrition and to some extent, retinopathy of pre-maturity, blindness resulting from effect of incubation due to pre-maturity of baby. Mr Debrah also urged parents and teachers to study their children for possible indications and signs of blindness and report early for treatment. He said there were a lot of programmes such as immunisations, Vitamin A supplementation to children and intensive education on exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months after birth, with other interventions such as free eye surgery for cataract under the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). He said there were currently eye care centres in almost all health facilities in the country to free Ghana from avoidable blindness and called on the public to register with the NHIS to be able to benefit from such facilities. 8 Oct. 07