Friday, September 28, 2007

Is blindness treatable?

THE government plans to eradicate preventable blindness by 2020 as part of global efforts to eliminate the disease, the Health Education Officer of the National Eye Care Programme, Ms Amina Kingo, has said. She told the ‘Daily News’ in Dar es Salaam yesterday that Tanzania had an estimated 360,000 blind persons, or one per cent of the current population and the main strategy was to make sure that newly born children did not lose their sight from treatable causes.

“October 8-10, this year will be dedicated to eye screening clinics for children and continue to monitor their sight status until they reached 15 years old,” Ms Kingo said. Adults also would be checked and treated, she added. Tanzania is a signatory of the 2003 Global Initiative for the Elimination of Avoidable Blindness that aims to reduce visual impairment by 80 per cent.

The theme for this year’s day on the campaign against blindness is “vision for children.” The day is held annually on October 10 and will be marked at national level this year in Bagamoyo where the Minister for Health and Social Welfare, Prof David Mwakyusa, is expected to be the guest of honour. Apart from being born blind, there are a number of infections that lead to loss or impaired vision.

Ms Kingo mentioned some of them as River Blindness disease, caused by parasites carried by tiny flies that dwell along rivers and cataract, caused by an opaque or cloudy area that develops in the lens of the eye. The condition can take months or even years, sometimes without the person realising it. Vitamin A deficiency also causes loss of sight. Globally, blindness affects an estimated 45 million people and about 135 million are visually impaired.

However, 80 per cent of that vision loss is preventable usually through simple hygienic procedures such as washing the hands and face. Many cases are also treatable. Projections estimate the numbers to climb to 75 million blind people and 200 million visually impaired persons by 2020 if urgent coordinated action is not taken.


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