The recent disclosure by the Glaucoma Patients Care Initiative (GPCI) that about 1.8 million Nigerians are suffering from glaucoma – a group of eye diseases characterised by silent and gradual loss of vision – has once again underscored the need for more pragmatic public health action by stakeholders to confront and tame this condition.
While presenting this alarming latest statistics as part of activities marking the celebration of 2017 World Glaucoma Week, held from 12 to 18 March, GPCI, an association of experts working on the condition, urged the Nigerian government to take steps to halt the increasing incidence of glaucoma amongst the citizens.
Aside the rousing effort by the GPCI group, other stakeholders, including the Glaucoma Society of Nigeria and the Nigerian Optometric Association, equally used the opportunity of the World Glaucoma Week to organise various enlightenment programmes, which included talks, free eye screening, road walks and media campaigns to call attention to a disease that the World Health Organisation has described as a major cause of blindness globally. These groups deserve commendation for their efforts in sensitising Nigerians on this ‘silent blinding disease.’
Glaucoma affects the optic nerve at the back of the eye which transfers visual information from the retina to the brain. It is estimated to afflict one out of every 20 people above the age of 40 in Nigeria in their lifetime. Indeed, experts have noted that Glaucoma is an even bigger eye health challenge than cataracts because blindness caused by glaucoma unlike that of cataracts is irreversible.
It must be emphasised, however, that tackling the glaucoma challenge in Nigeria must go beyond the tokenism of annual enlightenment campaign during the World Glaucoma Week. The fact that vision lost through glaucoma cannot be regained with treatment is a compelling argument for stakeholders to come up with a more proactive approach that will focus primarily on prevention, which is clearly the only way to beat glaucoma.
There is no denying that loss of sight has severely damaging consequences on the quality of life of people, with attendant impacts on social and economic productivity. Therefore, the awareness that many Nigerians are at risk of blindness should be a major source of concern to the nation.
Glaucoma manifests in different forms. While some of these manifestations, called ‘secondary glaucomas’, occur as complications of other visual disorders, majority of ‘primary glaucomas’ occur without a tangible known reason. Also, while issues, such as age, family history, high myopia and racial ancestry are considered risk factors, the fact that the condition can also occur in babies (congenital glaucoma) and during childhood and infancy (juvenile glaucoma) shows that the disease has no clearly established pattern.
The cheering news, however, is that with proper treatment measures, coupled with recent advances in early diagnosis, glucoma-induced blindness can be prevented. As has been emphasised already, the key to curbing glaucoma is early detection. With early detection, there are treatment options that can help reduce loss of vision and slow down the progress of the disease to avoid loss of sight. Therefore, Nigerians must be encouraged to be more conscious and proactive about their eye health, by way of going for periodic eye screening and undergoing proper treatment when they have issues.
The theme of the 2017 World Glaucoma Week is “Beat Invisible Glaucoma” and it is our view that for Nigeria to achieve this goal, the capacity of the nation’s health system to help in prevention and early detection of diseases like glaucoma must be strengthened. It is only when our health system is officially geared towards preventive healthcare rather than curative that the huge burden of diseases like glaucoma can be reduced.
It is equally essential to include eye health in the nation’s healthcare plan. Patients must be able to visit primary and secondary care centres for eye examination and be assured of proper care. It is only when eye health is seen as a crucial part of healthcare and patients with eye conditions can get the quality treatment they need and deserve that the increasing incidence of glaucoma can be halted in Nigeria.