02.08.2005 Health

Childhood blindness on the increase

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Accra, Aug. 2, GNA - About 500,000 children worldwide go blind every year with one child going blind every minute, Dr Vera Adobea Essuman, Paediatric Ophthalmologist at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, said on Tuesday.

She said 50 to 60 per cent of these children die within one to two years of their eye problems.

The main causes of the eye problems include vitamin A deficiency, severe measles, congenital cataract, corneal scarring and congenital glaucoma.

Speaking in Accra at the Ghana Health Service's (GHS) monthly health promotion, with the month of August focusing on blindness, Dr Essuman said most of the causes of eye problems were avoidable.

She said many children were getting blind through preventable causes because children with such ailment were forced to live their conditions for the rest of their lives. She said it was critical that serious measures were taken to prevent such unnecessary blindness. Her topic was: "Elimination of Childhood Blindness: Community Participation."

Dr Essuman noted that a survey conducted in 1997 to assess the major causes of blindness in blind schools in Ghana revealed that 34 per cent of the children had their blindness through corneal scare with retinal disease accounting for 19 per cent and glaucoma 18 per cent.

Cataract accounted for 14 per cent, optic atrophy, five per cent and other harmful practices accounting for 10 per cent.

"I am sure these innocent children would not have ended up in a blind school if proper measures had been taken since most of them are preventable."

She said these problems could be prevented through intensive neonatal care of pre-term babies with monitoring of blood gases, good antenatal care of pregnant women, immunisation, breastfeeding, good nutrition, Vitamin A supplementation and reporting any unusual detection on the eye to the clinic.

Dr Essuman also advised children not to fight or play with sticks, rubber bands, stones, catapults and sharp objects saying, "such practices could damage the eye within the first six days if prompt action is not taken".

She urged adults, who worked at dangerous places such as chopping of wood, hammering of metals and stones as well as use chemicals to wear protective gadgets to prevent their eyes from being harmed.

Dr Marian Hagan, Chief Ophthalmologist of the GHS, cautioned the public against the use of traditional herbs on their eyes. They should also keep away from people claiming to have cure to their eye problems since they might cause permanent damage to their eyes.

Dr Sam Adjei, Deputy Director-General of GHS, reiterated the need for parents to look out for any unusual swell on the eye, reddish eye or whitish element on the eyes of their children for prompt medical treatment "so that they do not go blind".

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