• About 60 per cent of cases of glaucoma at KNH are women above 40 years.
• The disease has no symptoms in the beginning until much later when there is marked loss of eyesight.
In November 2021, Elijah Mbugua was on his farm in Kiambu county when he suddenly could not see properly.
It had been long coming. His vision had been worsening over the years but he ignored it.
“On that day, I was busy doing my work at my shamba when my vision became blurred and distorted. I got assistance from my neighbour who was passing by. I couldn’t see properly and I was forced to ask for his help to head home," he told the Star.
Mbugua sought medical intervention after two days.
He met Dr Gideon Nderi, who diagnosed him with glaucoma, an eye disease that causes progressive irreversible damage of the eyes leading to blindness.
“After my medical journey with Dr Gideon, he recommended I get an urgent operation on my two eyes. My risks of losing my vision were getting high. My vision has not gotten to normalcy yet. I am currently on medication,” Mbugua said.
He was among hundreds of Kenyans diagnosed with glaucoma that year.
Dr Nderi says glaucoma has become a silent cause of blindness in Kenya, largely because of low awareness.
Last year, Kenyatta National Hospital treated 1,000 glaucoma cases from 14,708 eye care outpatients.
“Black people above 35 years are at more risk of contracting glaucoma. The disease sets in slowly without the individual’s knowledge. This is why in ophthalmology we call it, the silent killer. On average, most people don’t know they have glaucoma until it is too late,” Dr Nderi, an ophthalmologist at KNH, said.
He spoke on Tuesday at the launch of Glaucoma Week at the hospital’s grounds.
Dr Nderi said about 60 per cent of glaucoma cases at KNH are women above 40 years.
The condition causes slow pressure in the eye, which eventually damages the nerve that is used for vision.
The disease has no symptoms in the beginning until much later when there is marked loss of eyesight.
“At first, the symptoms are painless until advanced stages in the disease. Later on, the patient has reduced field of view, blurred and distorted vision and later on pain when the pressure increases in the eye. This is why we the keyword for today’s event is screening,” Dr Nderi said.
Signs and symptoms vary depending on the type and stage of one's condition. For example, in open-angle glaucoma one will have patchy blind spots in the side or central vision, frequently in both eyes.
In acute angle-closure glaucoma there is severe headache, eye pain, nausea and vomiting, blurred vision, halos around lights and eye redness.
Dr Nderi said individuals with short eyesight are at a higher risk of getting the disease.
According to statistics from KNH, Kenya’s glaucoma prevalence is at 4.3 to five per cent.
The country’s glaucoma eyecare is largely concentrated around Nairobi and may not be available to Kenyans at large. This increases the cases of misdiagnosis. Expensive eye equipment also makes glaucoma detection a difficult task.
“Proper diet builds your nerves, exercise often and get your eye pressure checked through screening,” he said.
Even with treatment, about 15 per cent of people with glaucoma become blind in at least one eye within 20 years.