Dr Joshua Ibenu, a Public Health Expert, has advocated for the domestication of the Eye Health Policy to improve eye health care and reduce the number of persons with visual impairment in Nigeria.
Ibenu made the call at a two-day capacity building for media practitioners organised by Sightsavers Nigeria, Thursday in Keffi, Nasarawa State.
He noted challenges of the eye health system to include policy and implementation, governance structure, human resources for eye health, evidence generation, and service delivery access, including infrastructure, technology, financing, and cost.
“Until 2019, there was no policy on eye health, and it was launched in 2022. But now, we are talking about domestication in every state. At the state level, the government is meant to look at it and see and apply it to each state.
“Also, human resources for eye health are very important. You need professionals to provide eye services, but they are not enough.
“We are still struggling with the number of General Practitioners, not to mention ophthalmologists. People need to start prioritising eye care. People want to prioritise other things than eye care,” he said.
According to him, it is estimated that 1,130,000 individuals aged 40 or above are currently blind in Nigeria and the North West geo-political zone has the largest number of blind adults (28.6 per cent) being the zone with the largest population.
He further said that 2,700,000 adults aged 40 or above are estimated to have moderate visual impairment and an additional 400,000 adults are severely visually impaired.
“Thus, a total of 4.25 million adults aged 40 or above in Nigeria are visually impaired or blind,” he said.
The expert noted that if visual impairment is tackled, the world could save over $400bn annually.
“85 per cent of blindness are as a result of avoidable causes but people do not know this.
“Some preventable causes of blindness are glaucoma, cornea opacity, poor sleep, unlimited screen time, and harmful traditional practices.
”Meanwhile, if we tackle blindness, we will be able to improve our health status in the country.
“Some traditional harmful practices are applying breast milk, lizard feaces, scent leaves, among others,” he said.
He also lamented the inadequate number of ophthalmologists in the country to take care of eye and vision conditions in the country, which he said affects access to the eye health care system.
Earlier, Dr Sunday Isiyaku, the Country Director of Sightsavers Nigeria, advised Nigerians to engage in regular eye checks every six months to enhance eye care and early diagnosis of eye health issues that might lead to visual impairment.
”It is mandatory to screen your eyes every six months to enable early diagnosis of eye problems. And with that, they will be able to detect any problem and commence treatment where necessary to prevent it from deteriorating.
“Sightsavers’ vision is of a world where no one is blind from avoidable causes, and we are committed to supporting individuals with visual impairments to access the support they need,” he said.
On his part, Mr David Okorafor, Project Officer, Economic Empowerment, Social Inclusion Unit, Sightsavers, stressed the need to promote disability rights and ensure social inclusion for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs).
“An estimate of over one billion persons or 15 per cent of the global population have a disability and 80 per cent live in low or middle-income countries, according to the World Health Organisation,” he said.
He added that the organisation was focused on citizenship and political participation, economic empowerment, inclusive health, and promotion of the rights of women and girls with disabilities.
Similarly, Mrs Esther Bature, called for more advocacies to improve inclusion in every sector for PWDs.
“We believe our projects should outlive us and our advocacy is to hold the government accountable by influencing and domesticating policies and putting it in place,” she said.
She also revealed that the organisation was also advocating for the implementation of the Marakesh Treaty, Inclusive Data charter for planning and execution of interventions and programmes aimed at ameliorating the plights of PWDs.