World Sight Day: Love your eyes and go have your eyes checked today, says Health ministry

Health CS Mutahi Kagwe. [David Njaaga, Standard]

Message from the Cabinet Secretary

As we commemorate World Sight Day (October 14, 2021), the Ministry of Health remains committed to delivering the highest standard of health to all Kenyans, as is enshrined in the constitution. This is true with regard to all the health aspects we must deal with but today, I choose to focus on eye care given the significance of this day.

I know that as the use of modern gadgets such as mobile phones and computers increases, so does the risk of getting eye problems.  This is especially so because the more one sits staring at a gadget, the less time they moisten their eyes through blinking, hence exposing the eyes to dryness.

This makes them more susceptible to disease which could unfortunately even lead to blindness if left unattended. 

Whereas this is true for our youth, we know that age tends to increase eye problems due to natural causes. Indeed, it is estimated that 75 per cent of visual impairing diseases are found in persons above the age of 65 years.

Globally, at least 2.2 billion people suffer from vision impairment or blindness of whom, at least 1 billion have an impairment that could have been prevented or is yet to be addressed.

In Kenya, we estimate that 15.5 per cent of the population, that is 7.5 million people are in need of eye care services ranging from itchy eyes, infections, short-sighted or long-sighted, age-related cataracts, Glaucoma, trachoma, complications of non-communicable diseases and difficulty in reading among others. Of these 7.5 million Kenyans, about 250,000 are blind.

Globally, at least 2.2 billion people suffer from vision impairment or blindness. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

The good news is, half of those who are blind can be treated, and their sight restored through simple cataract surgery. This Cost-Effective Surgery is now available in a number of county referral hospitals and other faith based and private hospitals.

The economic benefits of cataract surgery and other blindness prevention interventions studied in Kenya, and other parts of the world, report four times return on Investment. It is, for this reason, I am calling all to action: Love your eyes and go have your eyes checked today.

At the same time, we are all aware of a rise in Non-Communicable Diseases like hypertension and diabetes in the country. This has in turn resulted in a rise in sight-threatening eye-related complications, mostly resulting in irreversible loss of sight.

Of the 475,000 persons with type 2 diabetes, 10 per cent of them are at risk of losing their sight anytime through sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy. If some of these conditions are identified early, the progression of the complications to total loss of sight can be averted.

For this reason, I urge all persons living with diabetes to visit an eye specialist for an eye checkup every year for early detection and treatment of any emerging complication or as advised.

Refractive errors (short sight/Long sight) form the leading cause of visual impairment where persons are not able to see clearly. The most affected population is the school-going children, who are needlessly denied opportunities to excel in school following visual impairment. Yet, some of these problems can be easily corrected through the use of spectacles.

In a bid to address these issues, the Ministry of Health is rolling out a program where Teachers in Schools will be trained on the use of a portable eye examination kit, PEEK that will help in screening for Refractive errors in schools.

This is important because as much as visual challenges manifest themselves in the physical, there are a number of other issues that arise as a result, chief among these being psychological, social and even economic. 

Ministry of Health remains committed to delivering the highest standard of health to all Kenyans. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

Once you lose your sight or go blind, some people tend to go into denial and then falls into depression. As we all know, depression is now the leading cause of disability worldwide and a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease. This is further worsened by the social stigmatization, and the inability to engage in productive activities.

As a Ministry and in line with the efforts to achieve Universal Health Coverage, we are embracing Integrated people-centred eye care, through the primary health care approach. According to the World Report on Vision, eye health services are often fragmented, uncoordinated, unregulated, and of variable quality.

There are also shortages and maldistribution of eye health services, and where services exist, they may be poorly integrated. However, integrated people-centred eye care (IPEC) has the potential to address many of these challenges to delivering effective eye care services. I am glad to note that the Ministry is at the forefront of promoting these lifesaving solutions.

If we focus on health promotion, prevention and comprehensive treatment of people suffering from visual impairment especially in the ageing population, we will have a more productive, mobile and engaging population who will be self-independent and will not need any extra care.

This will contribute positively to the economy of the country. While blindness is found to be higher among the poor communities these proposed interventions on integrated people-centred eye care (IPEC) will aid in poverty alleviation, in line with Vision 2030, and the SDGs.  

- Sponsored Content