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17.02.2005 Health

Eye Health Strategy Framework launched

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Accra, Feb 17, GNA - A strategic framework for action on Eye Health care was on Thursday launched to serve as a guide towards the development of the necessary medical structures that would offer comprehensive eye health care and eliminate the problem of avoidable blindness and its effects among Ghanaians by the year 2020.

Major (Rtd) Courage Quashiga, Minister of Health, who launched the document said the most challenging aspects of eye health care provision was the high levels of blindness due to lack of awareness to its prevention and anything short of education and awareness creation would fail to yield the desired results.

He said education as well as awareness creation should be given the utmost priority in the fight against preventable blindness in the country.

He rated issues of eye health as an important aspect of health, as the rate of blindness of a country could give an indication of that country's level of development.

The framework for action is under the theme; "Imagine Ghana Free of Avoidable Blindness."

Major Quashiga said it was also very necessary that the document focussed mainly on the control of diseases that causes avoidable blindness and further develop strategies for the development of human resources and appropriate technology for eye care delivery in the country.

The Minister further linked the strategies of poverty reduction to eye health awareness creation, since the elimination of blindness could help eliminate poverty as well.

He said government would continuously demonstrate its commitment towards quality health care through the training of Ophthalmologists, Ophthalmic paramedics and primary eye care workers as a paramount strategy in preventing blindness.

He said the government's effort in equipping polyclinics to cater for simple eye diseases to help decongest the Teaching hospitals should be supported to make eye care services accessible and an essential part of primary health care.

Major Quashiga challenged regional and district Health Units to develop detailed implementation plans by the end of the year. Prof. Agyeman Badu Akosa, Director General, Ghana Health Services said the magnitude of preventable blindness in the country gave cause for alarm due to its negative socio-economic impact on the economy.

He said, an estimated one per cent of the population, which was approximately 200,000 people were said to have lost their sight and "it is worrying that the youth forms a greater proportion of this figure."

He also noted the high percentage of reported cases of preventable blindness among rural communities due to ignorance, poverty, poor sanitation, water and lack of access to health care facilities.

Prof. Akosa said cataract, which was one of the major causes of preventable blindness, should be covered under the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) to encourage patients to have surgery.

Mr. Harrison Kofi Abutiate, National President, Glaucoma Association of Ghana (GAG), said the Association needed financial support to conduct trials and establish the prevalence rate of glaucoma in the country since there was no national population-based study for prevalence of blindness, except estimates quoted for major causes of blindness at the national level.

He called on the National Eye Health Secretariat and the MOH to support the Glaucoma Awareness Week programme of the GAG and provide free eye screening in all healthcare facilities in the country to ensure early detection.

He also called for a waiver on drugs used to control glaucoma and to remove cataracts in order to eliminate the high cost of surgery. Dr Maria Hagan, Head of the Eye Care Unit, GHS mentioned some of the unhealthy practices that led to preventable blindness as failure of welders and other industrial workers to use protective shields and poor feeding.

She stated that though the number of ophthalmologists had increased rapidly over the years, there was still more to be done, as most of them preferred to have practice privately.

She said the high concentration of ophthalmologist in Accra is due to lack of motivation and appealed to government to increase the budget of the Ministry to be able to cater for the wide range of eye health cases in the country.

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