Medical practitioners have described glaucoma, an eye defect as the second leading cause of blindness worldwide.
No fewer than 1.8 million Nigerians of over 40 years age suffer from Glaucoma with almost 360,000 of them blind in both eyes. Glaucoma is a disease of the eye in which fluid pressure within the eye rises – if left untreated the patient may lose vision and even become blind.
The Associate Professor of Ophthalmology, Head Glaucoma Services and Acting Head of Department of Ophthalmology, College of Medicine/Lagos University Teaching Hospital (CMUL/LUTH), Idi-Araba, Dr. Adeola Onakoya, said yesterday at a press briefing to mark the World Glaucoma Week, March 12 to 16, 2017, that glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide and in Nigeria with a prevalence of 16.7 per cent, second only to cataract.
Onakoya, at the event organized by Pfizer said glaucoma is the commonest cause of irreversible blindness worldwide and in Nigeria. The ophthalmologist said glaucoma is a public health problem and currently 70 million people suffer from glaucoma worldwide, with 10 million blind.
She said it is anticipated that by 2020, sufferers would increase to 80 million and blindness from the disease would increase as well. The eye specialist said blindness from glaucoma is 10 times higher in the developing world and the clinical course of the disease in blacks follows an aggressive course.
She said there is increased prevalence amongst Africans, which increases with age in 0.5 to nine per cent of population over 40 years and increases to 15 per cent in population over 65 years. “With ageing, the population of sufferers will increase,” Onakoya said.
The ophthalmologist said only 50 per cent of the disease is diagnosed in developed countries and 85 per cent are undiagnosed in developing countries. She said patients in the developing countries usually present at an advance stage of the disease when there is irreversible visual loss.
Onakoya expressed regrets that awareness is very low, with only five per cent of Nigerian glaucoma population being aware.
She, however, said early detection and appropriate treatment of the disease seem to be the answer to the late presentation of sufferers and reduction of blindness from the disease. “Education on the natural history of the disease will also improve the compliance and adherence to treatment in the diagnosed patients,” Onakoya said.
The ophthalmologist said creation of awareness on the disease process and enlightenment programmes, backed up with case detection (through screening) would go a long way in reducing blindness.
She recommended that special attention should also be given to First Degree Relatives (FDR) of Glaucoma patients because of the heritability nature of the disease with the hope that the news can spread through word-of-mouth through at-risk groups.
Onakoya, however, warned that every Nigerian is at risk of the disease but this is higher in the population over 30 years, so special attention must be paid to include every Nigerian above the age of 30 years as the disease tends to present a decade earlier in Africans.
According to Onakoya, mass glaucoma screening and early treatment have been a cardinal aspect of the Rapid Response Initiative (RRI), one of President Muhammadu Buhari’s nationwide quick-win thrusts in healthcare.
She said in pursuance of the same vision, LUTH has outlined a robust programme to educate the public on glaucoma and also carry out case detection tests for willing members of the public. This, Onakoya said, will be done in conjunction with Glaucoma Patient Care Initiative in Nigeria, a registered glaucoma patients group and the ongoing RRI programme.
Onakoya the screening exercise will be conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday, March 14 and 15, 2017 at the Guinness Eye Centre, LUTH. She said a public lecture to sensitise the populace and impart knowledge on the disease has been scheduled for Thursday, March 16, 2017 at National Sickle Cell Centre.
The ophthalmologist said LUTH should champion efforts to create awareness of glaucoma and the need for all Nigerians above the age of 30 to undergo regular screening for this common cause of blindness.