Blindness is the inability to see anything, while vision impairment happens when an eye condition affects the visual system and its vision functions. The most common causes of blindness and vision impairment at a global level are cataracts and refractive error.
A public health expert and Program Officer at Sightsavers International, Dr. Joshua Ibenu, reveals that 1.1 million Nigerians have blindness, and there are not enough ophthalmologists or eye care specialists to diagnose and provide eye treatment.
Dr. Joshua said 0.78 percent of Nigerians have some blindness in all ages, increasing to 4.2 percent in older age groups. According to him, an estimated 1,130,000 people aged 40 or above are currently blind in Nigeria, and the North West geo-political zone has the most significant number of blind adults (28.6 percent), with the largest population.
Additionally, 85 percent of blindness results from avoidable causes, but people do not know about this. Some preventable causes of blindness are cornea opacity, glaucoma, poor sleep, unlimited screen time, and harmful traditional practices.
The following eye diseases and disorders can lead to blindness:
- Glaucoma refers to different eye conditions that can damage your optic nerve, which carries visual information from your eyes to your brain.
- Cataracts cause cloudy vision. They are mostly common in older people.
- Macular degeneration destroys the part of the eye that enables one to see details. It usually affects older people.
- A lazy eye can make it challenging to see details. It may lead to blindness or vision loss.
- Optic neuritis is inflammation that can cause temporary or permanent vision loss.
- Retinitis pigmentosa refers to damage of the retina. It causes blindness only in rare cases.
- Tumors that affect the retina or optic nerve can also cause vision loss.
Blindness is an underlying condition if you have diabetes or a stroke. Other common causes of blindness include:
- Eye injuries or trauma
- Congenital disabilities or family history
- Complications from eye surgery
Causes of Blindness in Infants
The following eye conditions can impair vision or cause blindness in infants:
- Eye infections, such as pink eye
- Blocked tear ducts
- Strabismus (crossed eyes)
- Amblyopia (lazy eye)
- Ptosis (droopy eyelid)
- Congenital glaucoma
- Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), which happens in premature babies when the blood vessels that supply their retina are undeveloped
- Lack of visual inattentiveness or delayed development of the child’s optical system
Who is at Risk for Blindness?
The following factors and categories of people are at risk for blindness:
- Individuals with eye diseases, such as macular degeneration and glaucoma
- Individuals with diabetes
- Individuals who have a stroke
- Individuals undergoing eye surgery
- Individuals who work with or near sharp objects or toxic chemicals
- premature babies
Challenges in Addressing Blindness in Nigeria
Several challenges hinder efforts to prevent and address blindness in Nigeria:
- Healthcare Infrastructure
The healthcare system faces significant challenges, including fewer eye clinics in Nigeria, a shortage of skilled healthcare professionals, and underfunding.
- Lack of Awareness
Many Nigerians need more awareness about the importance of regular eye examinations and early intervention for eye conditions. This factor contributes to delayed diagnosis and treatment.
- Limited Access to Eye Care Services
Accessibility to eye care services is unevenly distributed across the country, with urban areas having better access than rural regions. This geographical disparity exacerbates the problem of blindness.
Poverty is a significant barrier to accessing eye care services, as many Nigerians cannot afford the cost of treatment, eyeglasses, or transportation to healthcare facilities.
How to Address the Causes of Blindness in Nigeria
Efforts to combat blindness in Nigeria require a multifaceted approach to address the immediate causes and underlying factors contributing to visual impairment. Here are some crucial strategies and interventions:
- Increasing Awareness: Public health campaigns and education programs can raise awareness about the importance of regular eye examinations, early detection, and treatment of eye conditions.
- Strengthening Healthcare Infrastructure: Investments in healthcare infrastructure, including eye care facilities and the training of eye care professionals, are essential to expand access to eye care services.
- Preventive Measures: Blindness preventive tips, such as promoting good hygiene to reduce the spread of eye infections, distributing vitamin A supplements to at-risk populations, and advocating for safety measures to prevent eye injuries, can help reduce the incidence of blindness.
- Mass Drug Administration: Continuing and expanding mass drug administration programs for diseases like river blindness can effectively reduce the prevalence of these conditions.
- Subsidized Eye Care Services: Subsidizing the cost of eye care services and eyeglasses can make them more affordable for low-income individuals and families.
- Community Outreach: Outreach programs that bring eye care services to rural and underserved communities can help bridge the accessibility gap.
- Research and Data Collection: Gathering accurate data on the prevalence and causes of blindness in Nigeria is crucial for planning and targeting interventions effectively.
- Collaboration: Collaboration between government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and international partners can help pool resources and expertise to tackle the issue of blindness comprehensively.