• Ageing populations, changing lifestyles and limited access to eye care, especially in low- to middle-income countries, are the main reasons more people live with impaired vision.
• Many problems can be treated and vision restored or improved, but there's a serious lack of awareness of eye care.
Many Kenyans need eye treatment or surgery but only 21.3 per cent or 1.6 million have been able to access eye care from public and private facilities.
About 7.5 million people needing interventions to prevent loss of vision, restore vision or improve vision, the Ministry of Health has said.
World Sight Day was October 8, when professionals called more and more accessible eye care.
Seventy-five per cent of visual impairment results from preventable causes, such as cataracts, which can be removed to restore sight.
“What is even worse is over 80 per cent of the 250,000 people who suffer from blindness might not have been blind had there been early diagnosis and treatment," Health CAS Rashid Aman said.
He added,"This is worrying, as more than 75 per cent of the visually impaired need not live with the impairment - there's cost-effective cataract surgery and low-cost spectacles."
The World Health Organization said more than one billion people are living with vision impairment because they do not get treatment for short- and far-sightedness, glaucoma and cataracts.
Ageing populations, changing lifestyles and limited access to eye care, particularly in low-to-middle income countries, are reasons more people are living with impaired vision
“Eye conditions and vision impairment are widespread, and far too often they still go untreated. People who need eye care must be able to receive quality interventions without suffering financial hardships,” WHO director general Tedros Ghebreyesus said.
“Including eye care in national health plans and essential packages of care is important in every country’s journey towards universal health coverage,” he added.
The ministry is working with county governments to ensure primary health facilities have basic tools and skills to identify vision issues when people are young.
Kenya is using Portable Eye Examination Kits (PEEK) to screen for problems especially in schools. It uses Fundus photography for screening diabetic patientients for retinopathy.
Bad cultural practices have made people over-reliant on traditional medicine that is ineffective, leading them to seek professional medical help as a last resort.
Through the universal health coverage, the Health ministry aims to strengthen collaboration with all health partners.
The aim is to ensure no Kenyan is needlessly blind and under-served communities can access eye care
The biggest problem is in arid and semi-arid areas where the rate of eye illness is the highest.
Problems include lack of awareness that some condition can be treated and reversed, especially those related to old age, the CAS said.
“A lot more needs to be done," he said.
The ministry is in the final stages of developing the National Strategic Plan for Eye Health 2020-2025, which includes eye health planning in the counties.
Most visually impaired people are older than age 65 but attention to eye health in children is considered essential.
(Edited by V. Graham)