When we discuss avoidable blindness, we are referring to blindness that is treatable and preventable,
Angelina Khupe Program manager at the Bureau for Prevention of Blindness, (Eye Care division of the South African National Council for the Blind) told IOL Lifestyle.
The World Health Organisation has identified the following diseases as major causes of preventable blindness:
- Uncorrected refractive errors, which necessitates the use of glasses.
- Cataracts which can be reversed if caught early.
- Retinopathy, a problem with the back of the eye that is primarily brought on by diabetes or high blood pressure.
- Glaucoma, as a result of raised pressure in the eyes.
Lifestyle choices contribute to a wide range of secondary conditions. For example, diabetes mellitus can result in cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and injury.
Cataracts refer to the clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye. It forms when protein builds up in the lens of one's eye and makes it cloudy.
High blood pressure can also cause cataracts and injury, said Khupe.
Although some people will develop glaucoma after 40 years, routine eye checks are very important because once it is detected early then it means early intervention.
“With glaucoma once the vision is lost that blindness cannot be reversed unlike with cataracts where surgery would reverse the damage. If a person comes in because they are blind as a result of a condition, we perform surgery and restore their vision,” said Khupe.
Similar to retinopathy, some medical treatments/interventions can be used if you have glaucoma and good vision to preserve your vision.
When a patient has uncorrected refractive errors, all that is required to restore their vision is the doctor's prescribed eyewear; however, when a patient has both glaucoma and cataracts, early intervention is required to preserve their vision because a patient's long-standing cataract can cause glaucoma and vision loss, Khupe said.
Any person can develop cataracts with congenital cataracts, which occur at birth (known as developmental cataracts) can be genetic. Cataracts may also develop due to other factors, including medication, ongoing medication, and advanced age.
Khupe said that glaucoma was inherited, and if someone has a small angle that drains and cleans the eye, it can result in a blocked duct. Consequently, if the fluid is not removed, the pressure will build up, potentially damaging the optic nerve and causing blindness.
“Controlling blood sugar levels is necessary for retinopathy, which must be detected early to receive intervention. Vision can be recovered in all three cases of vision impairment.”
Where can I get my treatment?
One cannot simply walk into a government eye hospital; instead, one must make contact due to backlogs, the cost of the treatment is very low.
“However, you can call the South African National Council for the Blind in Pretoria at 0124523811 and ask for the bureau for the prevention of blindness. The organisation will then direct you to the appropriate South African province. We have a referral schedule because of our partnership with the provincial department of health.”
Dr. Khupe advises people to adopt a healthy lifestyle, which includes eating well, exercising regularly, and getting regular eye exams. This helps with early intervention for most lifestyle diseases.
As a result of the prevalence of avoidable eye blindness, Glencore and the SANCB collaborated to identify members of the community who required surgery to better understand the extent of the support required.
Through the partnership, the mining operation aims to provide comprehensive eye care to community members as this is an essential part of the global action plan to meet the eye care needs of marginalized communities in the country.
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