“Preventable Blindness’’ means vision loss from circumstances within our control. Globally, the causes of preventable blindness vary between countries depending on accessibility, affordability and acceptability of quality eye care services. According to the World Health Organization, about 1.1 billion people are living with vision loss and 90% of this population are in low and middle-income countries.
Cataracts are the leading cause of vision impairment in Africa compared to the low rates in high-income countries. Other causes of preventable blindness are glaucoma, uncorrected refractive errors, trachoma, and among others. And about 80% of blindness cases are preventable or treatable, this accentuates the need for a pragmatic approach to solving this problem in underserved communities.
What brought about advocacy for avoidable blindness?
In 1999, the World Health Organization and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) launched an initiative, Vision 2020: The Right to Sight. The global initiative had made remarkable achievements in the last decade, especially at the international level. Most of the major achievements can be attributed to the strong and persistent advocacy that was achieved through strong leadership and strong broad partnerships.
However, VISION 2020 has not achieved the same level of success in all parts of the world. In Africa, where a large number of people still suffer from blindness, national governments have not shown much political commitment. This is despite the fact that they have signed the VISION 2020 declaration, which means that they endorse all World Health Assembly resolutions on the initiative. In addition, commitment from health professionals remains limited to a few converts and the private or corporate sector is only involved at a very basic level. Were it not for the commitment and support of the few NGOs operating there, the initiative would have struggled to make any progress after its launch in 2002.
Advocacy is an essential tool for policy development, changing the attitudes and behaviours of people whose actions affect the eradication of preventable blindness. It can be supported by information, communication, education, publicity, and fundraising.
Advocacy can help to draw attention to patients’ needs. It can raise public awareness of eye health problems and their impact. A public that is aware is more likely to contribute, participate, and put pressure on authorities and policymakers to allocate resources to eye health. A further important reason for doing advocacy is that it can help organisations to gain access to the human, material, and financial resources that are needed to bring about improvements in eye health.
As a result, The R.E.T.I.N.A Initiative is helping underserved communities become free from preventable blindness through the implementation of sustainable eye care innovations, community eye health interventions and advocacy campaigns. We have delivered 11 projects that have impacted over 4,000 people in 15 communities in Nigeria.
We aim to provide comprehensive vision care services to marginalized communities to increase awareness of preventable blindness and correct visual impairment conditions. Also, to train young people about basic first aid skills in responding to emergency eye injuries.
The theme of World Sight Day 2022 is tagged Love Your Eyes. The theme resonates to raise awareness about blindness and vision impairment’s impact on community development. Therefore, as we commemorate the global celebration of World Sight Day, we encourage everyone to preserve their eye health through periodic eye examinations (at least twice a year). Also, we call on the government, private institutions and non-governmental organisations to collaborate in developing sustainable solutions that will promote affordable and accessible quality eye health in Africa.