Certain forms of blindness can be averted if treated at the right time, and to achieve this, all stakeholders in the country have a role to play to reduce the barriers to accessing good eye care services in the country, PATRICK OCHOGA writes.
Basically, visual impairment and blindness are caused by problems that are often treatable or preventable such as cataracts, glaucoma, refractive errors, harmful traditional practices, trachoma, and childhood blindness. However, patients from different places face different challenges that prevent them from accessing eye health services. The type of problem patients face depends on who they are, where they are, and the cause of the eye problem, however, they are mostly left untreated until it becomes irreversible.
More so, poverty and inability to pay for eye care services amidst the effect of COVID-19 remain the most prominent barrier impeding access to good eye care services amongst Nigerians, despite government bold efforts to support firms and protect jobs through job retention schemes. Sadly, millions of workers across the country lost their jobs, and many self-employed workers saw their incomes collapse and were unable to fend for themselves and family.
Other barriers that impeded access to good eye care services include the distance of eye care service centres from the rural dwellers, fear of financial exploitation from the service providers, fear of treatment outcome, and the availability of other cheaper treatment options. Other barriers identified were: the ability to cope with eye disease, the seriousness of the symptoms, and lack of awareness of eye diseases and the related risk factors, while poverty remains a major determinant of health in Nigeria.
When the World Health Organization (WHO) launched its “Vision 2020” vision, it was based on the prediction that 76 million people will go blind by 2021. In collaboration with the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), WHO’s Vision 2020 goal was to, eventually, prevent about 100 million people from going blind.
With public health institutions completely overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic and governments and corporate organisations diverting resources to curtail the spread, accessing good eye care services became a major challenge and were left unattended to.
As is the case with most developing nations challenged by healthcare needs, blindness and the ailments associated with the eyes are serious matters in Nigeria.
Indeed, the nation’s Blindness and Visual Impairment survey was very revealing about the state of eye care and impairment in the country. The report which was conducted between 2015 and 2017, suggests that over one million individuals aged 40 years are currently blind in Nigeria. A population of 2.7 million adults in the same bracket was estimated to have a moderate visual impairment, and an additional 400,000 adults are severely visually impaired.
A hospital-based retrospective study in Edo state showed that over six per cent (555) of new patients seen within the period of the study were uniocular blind while four per cent (354) were binocularly blind. The leading causes of uniocular blindness were cataracts, open-angle glaucoma, and corneal
ulceration/leucoma. Binocular blindness was mainly due to cataracts, open-angle glaucoma, and aphakia. The prevalence of blindness in the study population is high.
Studies reveal that cataracts is one of the major causes of blindness which require surgical treatment, either in the teaching hospital or preferably in the patient’s locality. Appropriate interventions need to evolve (in the form of mobile clinics or a series of surgical eye camps) to stem the present trend towards a high prevalence of avoidable blindness. Prevention of ocular trauma is an essential factor in the reduction of blindness in children. However, as part of efforts to support achieving sustainable development goals (SDG) three which promotes good health and well-being, the inclination to support the World Health Organization’s (WHO) goals, and the Nigerian National Programme for Prevention of Blindness (NNPPB), Seplat Energy Plc, an Indigenous Energy Company launched a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme themed: “Eyes Can See” in the year 2012 aimed at giving succour to community members of its areas of operation, with its programme.
The aptly titled “Eye Can See” initiative is one of SEPLAT’s CSR initiatives executed annually in its host communities to provide comprehensive, quality, and free eye care service to members of the host communities and the states. Since the inception of the programme almost a decade ago, the initiative has brought community dwellers to meet with specialist optometrists, which has continued to lift many people from poverty and extreme poverty.
Via the initiatives, Seplat impacted 80,194 persons, dispensed 35,755 reading glasses, and performed 3,456 cataracts and related surgeries to the community.
The director, External Affairs and Sustainability, Seplat Energy, Dr. Chioma Nwachuku, told LEADERSHIP Weekend that ensuring the sustainability of the communities where SEPLAT operates remains top of the organisation’s agenda, particularly as it concerns the health and wellbeing of the people.
According to him, “We are committed to partnering with our host communities with the view to touching lives. The ‘Eye Can See’ intervention programme has been on since 2012 and every year. The company brings a dedicated team of medics to ensure it makes the right and needed impacts. Our focus on the good health and wellbeing of our people is unwavering, and this is in line with Sustainability Development Goal (SDG) three to ensure healthy lives and promote the wellbeing of all at all ages.”
He said the free premium optical care intervention programme, which was open to everyone at the venue, witnessed a large turnout of people from within and outside Benin City. He said over the years, numerous Nigerian citizens within Edo, Delta, and other SEPLAT operating states, have received surgeries worth hundreds of millions of naira for free through the “Eye Can See” programme.
Nwachuku said for organisations to excel, they must align themselves with the global development priorities and ensure they fuel and catalyse the global efforts towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). He recalled that the SDGs were adopted precisely on 25 September, 2015, by 193 countries as a follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals.
‘’Worldwide, corporate organisations are key drivers of SDGs. Many corporate bodies should leverage Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to achieve the SDGs for sustainable growth in a holistic manner for the people and the communities where they operate.
‘’Seplat has proven its intent to adhere to global best practices demonstrated in the areas of economic empowerment, health, and education via the ‘’Eye Can See’’, and the recently held STEP CSR programmes.
He said if all the corporate organisations were to tow this route of Seplat Energy, the burden of underdevelopment and social restlessness particularly in the oil-producing areas in the state would be greatly reduced.
‘’The programme is in addition to other yearly social programmes deployed by SEPLAT in her areas of operation. Beneficiaries of the programme who received a free eye screening and treatment, many of whom had their sights restored following the surgery, commended the organisation for bringing hope to their lives and giving them the opportunity to maximise their potential. This initiative strengthens all the patients’ capability to generate income for themselves and their families, especially in the prevailing economic challenges.
‘’Considering the state of health indicators and the urgent need to address health challenges in Nigeria, these moves by NPDC/SEPLAT have indeed helped to improve the health of many Nigerians. Most of the patients do not have access to essential health services due to undue financial hardship, which has pushed them into extreme poverty,’’ he said.
Meanwhile, the Oba of Benin, His Royal Majesty Oba Ewuare II, lauded SEPLAT for supporting and enhancing the physical and mental well-being of members of its host communities.
Represented by the Eribo of Benin, Chief John Oviesogie, he pledged the palace support to the organisation and its activities. He, however, commended the resolve of the organisation to continue to invest in its areas of operations, saying the move had helped to boost the communities’ fortunes.
He said the programme, therefore, places Seplat Energy at the top of the corporate social responsibility in the state, and by extension has won the hearts of people in its host communities.
‘’Health education and bringing ophthalmological care to the doorstep of underprivileged rural dwellers will improve their wellbeing and level of awareness,’’ he added.