18 October 2017

Ethiopia: Make Vision Count - a Call for a Sight

Fitsum Tekola, 26, is resident of Jimma Town in Oromia State. She has been suffering from long sightedness that caused vision problem and challenged her not to effectively perform well in schooling and daily activities for over two decades.

"Since my early childhood, I had a problem of low vision in identifying letters and numbers written on the blackboard. Due to this, my school results were always unsatisfactory. I never noticed that was due to the low vision that I had undergone since my early childhood. Instead, I did attribute the cause of my unsatisfactory results with some external cases," she said.

As Fitsum stated, her eyes, further than causing poor vision and difficulty in identifying what is written on the blackboard or on her textbooks, they had no deep stabbing pain on her. However, in course of time, the problem exacerbated and became exhausting as she grew up.

Fortunately, the problem did not continue as it had been. Fitsum heard the good news that was heralded by the University in her town. Jimma University Specialized Hospital has made known for town's dwellers as it is giving treatments to such errors. Fitsum did not spent additional time to go to the University's Hospital and conduct eye testing.

The University after carried out various eye examinations let her know that the problem with her eyes was 'Refractive Error' known as long sight.

Since that time, her sight improved for the better. The lens that is given to her by the University has enabled her overcome the challenges that she had encountered for years due to long sightedness. Currently, praise to the Hospital's practitioners, Fitsum has graduated in Surveying Technology field at diploma level.

Fistum has approached by The Ethiopian Herald at the premise of the Jimma University Specialized Referral Hospital as she came to have a checkup for her left eye. which is now has some pains long time after her treatment.

The other resident of Jimma Town, Alemayehu Tasew, is in his early 70s. He serves as a court clerk at Jimma Town Woreda Court. It was a year ago that he underwent a cataract surgery in this same University Hospital to improve his vision. And the result of the first surgery was impressive until he felt pain and obliged to see a physician for checkup.

"As I heard the five days long Eye Testing Campaign, I came to benefit from the service," Alemayehu said referring the five days long Eye Testing Campaign launched in Jimma Town and some parts of the South Western Ethiopia in relation to the 12th 'World Sight Day' organized by the Ministry of Health, Oromia State Health Bureau, Jimma University Specialized Hospital and several nongovernmental organizations working in the health sector across the country.

"I suffer from short sight. I cannot clearly see objects placed far away. In my earlier years, I did not have such problems, said the other beneficiaries of the Campaign.

As to him, the power of his vision decreases from day to day starting from the age of 65, and now, he reaches to a situation that his vision is challenging him to carryout activities properly. Particularly, because his left eye is paining him badly, he came to the Eye Testing Campaign arranged by the University,

"I can see upto the distance of thirty or twenty meters, however I cannot identify the kind of the thing that I see. I could not differentiate hazardous things from the safe and people from animals unless they get closer to me."

Daniel Habtemariam, a residence of the Bosakito Kebele of Jimma Town shares similar story. Until he checked his eye sight in the University Hospital in 2010 , he had undergone in severe sight problem. As his medical report indicated and the practitioners declared to him his eye has strong pressure which may lead to blow-out if it is to be corrected by surgery. Thus, they gave him other treatment instead and he was well for the last seven years. However, currently the problem has relapsed to its previous situation, Habtemariam stated.

Asegedech Gebabo, mother of three, is an employee of Jimma town's Roads Authority as cleaner. Due to the nature of her work, she is highly vulnerable to dust related eye infections and sight errors.

"Every moment, I am expected to be careful due to the nature of my work. The health extension workers always teach us to do so. Even, the house chores also exposed us to such illness. These all cause us sight problem in the long run,' said Asegedech.

Dr. Tsedeke Asamnew is an Assistant Prof. and Ophthalmologist in the Jimma University Specialized Hospital, School of Ophthalmology.

Dr. Tsedeke told The Ethiopian Herald that sight weakness and low vision can be caused by different causes. The major cause of sight problem and which causes blindness in Ethiopia is cataract which accounts for over 50 percent followed by trachoma and refractive errors, according to him. However, the cases are treatable if they are identified early.

This kind of sight weakness can be corrected easily by surgery, as he said. However, there are other diseases that hinder practitioners not to carryout surgery, he said adding that for instance, the core organ in our eyes cornea can totally damaged due to age and the cases like glaucoma are challenging to treat surgically.

Cataract surgery would help to detect the problems that may come to happen in the future. he said adding that, "Once parts of our eyes are damaged, it is impossible to regain the harmed parts. However, there are possibilities which enable to protect the case from aggravating and sometimes there are cases that need further surgery, Dr. Tsedeke adds.

He adds: it does not mean that cataract surgery can correct the sight problem fully. "Therefore, it is always recommended to regularly check our eyes sight before the problem is worsening and reaches to untreatable stage."

Most of the cases for cataract in Ethiopia, according to the Physician, are associated with age-related macular degeneration, accidents, infections, diabetes and hereditary diseases caused by infections during pregnancy.

The Specialist underscored that there are over 800,000 people in Ethiopia waiting for cataract surgery either due to lack of access to health service, lack of awareness about cataract, limited capacity and dedication of professionals.

Jimma University, in collaboration with the nearby public hospitals in Oromia, Southern Nations, Nationalities and People's and Gambella States, has made agreement to reach those people living with cataract and access the services through campaigns.

The partners' collaboration and support is crucial to reach these people and deliver the service said Dr. Tsedeke adding that "during the past two months (December and January) we made surgery to 2,000 people, due to the fact that we secure larger support from partners. If we get more supports and resources of all kind, we can facilitate our services and treat more patients," he underlined.

The University has five eye specialists in service and nine specialty students, one specially trained middle level specialist for cataract surgery, three eye health specialized nurses and nine optometrists serving the Jimma Zone and surrounding parts of SNNP's and Gambella, as the Specialist stated.

Like the case of Fitsum, there are several children considering by their family and teachers as poor performers and evicted from education due to limited awareness with regard to cataract, Dr. Tsedeke says.

Calling upon the partners and federal government to exert maximum efforts for the common causes and prevention blindness Dr. Tsedeke extended his gratitude to all the global and local institutions working to end the problem.

Oromia State Health Bureau, Neglected Tropical Diseases and Malaria Case Team Leader Hirpa Miecha for his part underlined that the State is the second most vulnerable region to trachoma and cataract. More than 100,000 people presently need to be reached fast before they lost their vision because of this easily treatable case, trachoma, he says.

An Advisor to the State Minister with the Ministry of Health Girma Ashenafi also said that the government is aggressively working to achieve the Vision 2020, a global initiative vision known with the theme; 'The Right to Sight' and launched by the World Health Organization (WHO) member countries.

Similar to the global initiative and in line with the second Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP-II), the Ethiopian government has the goal of 80 percent to prevent the causes of blindness and 20 percent to cure those affected, according to Girma.

Technical Advisor of Eye Health Program with the Ministry Tsehaynesh Tiruney for her part stated that the government has allotted 21 million birr to meet the global initiative Vision 2020 and to expand eye health protection services across the country.

In addition to this, she said the government has also adopted five years action plan to change the present condition of eye health.

The major causes of avoidable blindness and low vision in Ethiopia includes among others; cataract, trachoma, refractive error, other than trachoma corneal optics, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and age related macular degeneration.

Studies indicate that 1.6 percent of the total population in Ethiopia is visually impaired and 3.7 percent having sight problems.

Furthermore, there are 600,000, 130,000 and 50,000 people who are visually impaired because of cataract, trachoma and glaucoma respectively. Some 989,000 are also suffering from refractive error and over nine million children under the age of ten are affected by trachoma.

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