Curbing menace of cataract in Nigeria



MTN Foundation offers 15,896 free surgeries, 17,946 reading glasses, 16,808 drug packs to treat various eye diseases

Recent statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicate that about 90 per cent of all blind people live in the developing world, and that cataracts, which can be avoided and treated, cause most of these cases of blindness.

Here in Nigeria, about one million Nigerians are estimated to be blind and another 3.1 million are said to be living with one form of visual impairment or the other. These individuals conduct their day-to-day activities with significant difficulty, and the overwhelming majority of them do not have access to proper treatment or facilities.

A recent study published in Research in Ophthalmology by researchers from College of Health Sciences, Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Osogbo, Osun State, and Osun State University, Osogbo, Osun State, found that about 17.6 million are blind from cataract global.

The study titled “Barriers to Uptake of Cataract Surgery: An Eye Camp Account” noted: “In Nigeria about 486,000 Nigerians were estimated blind with a prevalence of about 1.8 per cent. This level is still considered high. Cataract operation remains the only and very good option for treatment of cataract blindness. Factors preventing people from assessing sight restoration services remain a challenge to the eye care delivery. Free cataract surgeries are becoming a regular practice in Nigeria. Despite this practice, many people continue to turn out blind from cataract, either in one or both eyes. This study is interested in why people still present with blinding cataract. Through interview-assisted questionnaires, a descriptive study was carried out among cataract blind patients who turned up for cataract surgery during an eye camp.

“About 1570 persons were screened. Of this number, 297 were found to have cataract with visual acuity of 6/60 or worse.167 were bilaterally blind. Questionnaire was administered to the 297 persons. Complete information was obtained from 211 of the respondents. Cost of surgery was the greatest cause of delay in uptake of cataract surgery in 171 (81 per cent) persons. This was followed by ignorance in 18 persons. Cost of surgery still causes a lot of delay in uptake of cataract surgery in the study population. Cataract surgical rate needs to be increased.”

The researchers include: Josephine N. Ubah, Micheline A. Isawumi, and Caroline O. Adeoti.

Also, a survey of blindness and low vision in Nigeria has found that nearly half a million adults in the country are in immediate need of cataract surgery.

Initiated by the Federal Ministry of Health, and supported by Sightsavers, the survey of adults aged 40 and above provides important data about the number of people in Nigeria who are blind and visually impaired, and the causes of this. This information had previously been lacking.

As well as the 486,000 adults across the country who are in immediate need of cataract surgery, other important causes of blindness were glaucoma (a condition where the optic nerve is damaged, often by high pressure inside the eye), corneal scarring and poor procedures for cataract surgery. River blindness and trachoma together accounted for five percent of blindness.

The survey found that almost half of all procedures for blinding cataract undergone by survey participants had been performed by herbalists (“couching”) and this was more common in the north of the country. During couching an instrument is used to dislocate the opaque lens away from the pupil, into the back of the eye but this is often associated with complications.

As in many developing countries, Nigeria suffers from a lack of trained staff and equipment to enable the backlog of cataract operations to be reduced. In this part of Africa, the number of ophthalmologists is less than one per million people.

Extrapolating the data from the survey to the total population, the prevalence of blindness in Nigeria is estimated to be 0.78 per cent.
The survey’s other key preliminary findings: in Nigeria, over 1,000,000 adults are blind and another 3,000,000 are visually impaired; 42 out of every 1000 adults aged 40 and above are blind; overall, two out of three Nigerians are blind from causes which could be avoided, such as cataract, which is the single commonest cause of blindness; blindness is almost three times more common in the dry northern areas (the Sahel) than in southern delta areas; and illiterate participants were twice as likely to be blind as those who were literate.

To address the situation, the MTN Foundation through its Eyesight Restoration Intervention Scheme (MTNF EyeRIS) is offering free cataract surgeries and care for the condition across the country.

In fact, 15,896 beneficiaries received free surgery to remove cataract while 17,946 received reading glasses to treat presbyopia and 16,808 got drug packs to treat various ocular diseases.

Indeed, thousands of Nigerians have benefited from this project that seeks to curb the menace of cataracts, a leading cause of blindness in Nigeria. The Federal Ministry of Health and the sister ministries in the benefitting states endorses the project, which is part of the Foundation’s health intervention initiative. But the original stamp of approval came from MTN Nigeria, which conceived the Foundation ten years ago this year.

Chairman MTN Nigeria, Dr. Pascal Dozie, while speaking about sustenance of the MTNF in a recent chat with journalists said: “I believe the Foundation will subsist with the determination of the parent company to continue to contribute to the Foundation to improve the lives of the good people of Nigeria. The sustenance is also predicated on MTN Nigeria’s continuous improvement and success as a business, so it can continue to donate the required one per cent of its profit after tax to the activities of the Foundation.”

A statement from MTN Foundation noted: “Unwavering commitment of MTN to ensure the MTN Foundation continues to succeed is clearly evidence in that statement. This is this commitment that has made it possible for the MTN Foundation to invest over N11 billion in a decade of operation.

“This is equally this commitment that has ensured that about 50, 650 people benefit from this life changing project that is the MTNF EYERIS.

“Of this number 15,896 beneficiaries received free surgery to remove cataract while 17,946 received reading glasses to treat presbyopia and 16,808 got drug packs to treat various ocular diseases

“This is without a doubt a huge step forward in the efforts to eliminate preventable blindness nationwide.”

The statement added: “This is precisely the kind of projects the MTNF continues to implement; projects that are sustainable and produces high-impact; projects that improves the quality of life of people across communities in Nigeria.

“Many did not have access to proper treatment or facilities until now. The intervention by the Foundation has definitely changed the lives on these beneficiaries forever. They can now not only dare to dream but also to see a brighter future for themselves and to contribute meaningful to the society at large.

“It is not surprising therefore that 10 years on the foundation remains committed to improving individual and communal lives through social investment projects that nurture people’s inherent abilities, care for and respect peoples dignity and help create economic value in their lives.”

According to Dozie, “We subscribe to the philosophy that the best business is that which employs a win-win approach, whereas the company grows; it simultaneously contributes to the sustainability of the socio-economic development of its environment. For us at MTN Nigeria, there is really no other way to do good business than to do it responsibly. So for all of us at MTNN, it is not just about doing business. Underpinning all of our operations is a carefully woven thread of commitment. It is a commitment to acting responsibly to impact our society – the Nigerian society.”

He added: “This is why MTN has committed voluntary contributions of one per cent of its Profit after Tax, to the MTN Foundation for the execution of projects that are in the interest of, and directly benefit its stakeholders and communities across Nigeria.

“Indeed, the success of Corporate Social Investment (CSI) initiatives is measured by the impact and sustainability of the projects on the host communities. The beneficiaries of the MTNF EyeRIS have the sight for life; that is sustainability.

“The MTNF EyeRIS project is just one of the many projects under the Health Portfolio of the MTN Foundation. Other notable projects under this portfolio include the MTNF Medical Support Project (MSP), the Annual MTNF Community Health Screening project and the MTNF Sickle Cell Project.

“Apart from Health, the MTN Foundation also invests in Education and Economic Empowerment Portfolios across the country and so far, we have invested over $56 million or (N10 billion) in carrying out projects in 344 sites across the 36 states of Nigeria and the FCT.

“What MTNF has been doing in the last 10 years is commendable. That is why other companies should borrow a leaf from it and complement government’s efforts in improving the quality of lives in the Nigerian society.”

The Executive Secretary, MTNF, Nonny Ugboma, advised other corporate organisations in Nigeria is to further explore ways of helping people in the country the same way the MTN Foundation has done. “I believe that a healthy Nigeria is a better Nigeria.

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