Christabel Addo, GNA
Accra, March 13, GNA - Ghana is gradually winning the war against Glaucoma, as more people are now reporting in health care facilities across the country for testing, diagnoses and treatment of the disease.
Mr Harrison Kofi Abutiate, the National President of the Glaucoma Association of Ghana, made this known at the press launch of the annual World Glaucoma Week in Accra on Wednesday.
He said the progress made, so far, was an indication of the positive impact created by the persistent awareness campaigns by the Ministry of Health (MOH) and its partners over the years.
He said the success story was, however, being deterred by the high cost of treatment for glaucoma, and commended the government for heeding to the Association’s request for the removal of Value Added Tax (VAT) on the cost of glaucoma drugs.
Mr Abutiate pleaded that the move should be extended to affect all medications, equipment and consumables for the holistic management and eradication of the disease.
Glaucoma is an eye condition distinguished by a loss of vision resulting from damage to the optic nerve, due to the difficulty in maintaining a normal flow of fluid through the eye, and this results in a rise of the pressure inside the eye which, could damage the optic nerve leading to irreversible blindness.
He said the World Glaucoma Week would be commemorated nationally on the theme: “Green = Go Get Your Eyes Tested for Glaucoma: Save your Sight.”
Activities for the Week include radio and television talk shows, free public eye screening at the Osu Ebenezer Presbyterian Church on Saturday, March 16, 2019, from 0900 to 1400 hours, as well as in various health facilities and communities across the country.
He said the annual awareness creation and outreach programmes by stakeholders involved in eye care, had gone a long way to arrest what would have been an “epidemic” in the country.
Mr Abutiate commended the stakeholders including the Ministry of Health (MOH), the National Eye Care Secretariat, Ophthalmological Society of Ghana (OSG), Optometrist Association of Ghana, Ghana Ophthalmic Nurses Group, Rotary Clubs, and Lions Club for the support.
However, that notwithstanding, there was still more to be done as the national statistics on glaucoma were still high and unacceptable, with over 700,000 Ghanaians living with glaucoma, of which half did not know they had the condition, and 60,000 were already blind from the disease, he said.
Mr Abutiate said family history, aging, short sightedness and increased pressure in the eye were major risk factors, but most cases did not have any symptoms at the initial stages, which made early reporting of all eye diseases as critical as regular or annual screening.
He said glaucoma continued to be the leading cause of irreversible blindness globally, second to cataract, and undoubtedly Ghana was one of the highest-ranking countries in the world affected.
Global awareness remained the biggest contribution towards the provision of appropriate education, he said, and appealed to the media and private sector to support the awareness creation and the sustenance of free public eye screening for early detection, diagnoses and treatment.
Ms Tina Mensah, the Deputy Minister of Health, who launched the Week, said an estimated 900,000 Ghanaians would be living with glaucoma by 2020 and more would become blind from the condition.
She said the rising statistics was worrying and called for improvement in data capture and strengthened partnerships for glaucoma prevention.
“We need to strengthen Primary Health Care management of eye care to enable us to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and reduce glaucoma, which needed urgency, purpose and leadership,” she said, adding that government had promised to make that work.
She urged all eye care facilities in the country to open their doors to the public for free screening and refer to appropriate specialists for treatment.
Dr Naamuah Tagoe, a Consultant Optometrist at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, and Chairperson of the Ophthalmological Society of Ghana, said an estimated 76 million people, globally, were suffering from glaucoma as at 2015, with nearly three million of them going blind, and this was an alarming increase of about 20 million since 2010.
The figure, she said, had risen to nearly 80 million people worldwide with glaucoma, out of which close to 11 million were already blind, and “eight out of every 100 Ghanaians aged 30 years and above, and nine of every 100 Ghanaians, aged 40 years and above, having glaucoma”.
She said the OSG would continue its partnership with the Glaucoma Patient’s Association to champion the cause of eliminating challenges including the late presentation by patients due to low awareness and the silent nature of the disease (painless loss of vision).
Also contributing are the high cost of treatment, distance to health care facilities for treatment, abuse of drugs (steroids), and the low acceptance of glaucoma surgery despite its proof as one of the most effective treatment options in Africa.
Dr Tagoe urged the Government to add more effective glaucoma drugs onto the National Standard Drug List and set up a Body within the MOH to champion awareness as country could be sitting on a “Blindness Time Bomb”.
She said the prevalence of glaucoma could only be held in check through improved screening and effective treatment strategies.