Lagos state governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has reiterated commitment towards reducing incidences of visual impairment and blindness in the state.
Sanwo-Olu, gave the assurance, yesterday at the opening ceremonies of the 44th National Conference and Vision Expo, organized by the National Optometric Association (NOA).
The three-day conference, held at the Federal Palace Hotel, Lagos, focussed on “Quality Eye Care: Economic &Security impact of COVID-19.”
The governor, who was represented by Dr. Olufunmilola Shokunbi, the Director of Medical Administration Training and Programs, commended optometrists for their outstanding contributions towards providing quality care for the treatment and management of visual health.”
“This programme was well-planned, therefore the conference is already a success,” she noted.
Earlier in her address, the Registrar of Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians Registration Board of Nigeria, Prof(Mrs) Ebele Uzodike said “delivery of optimal eye care services in the country was hampered immensely by the pandemic,” as well as economic and security challenges, across several communities.”
“The menace of banditry, kidnappings and other criminalities by unknown gunmen affected business activities and inspection activities. Also the #EndSars protests, which was hijacked by hoodlums in some areas, resulted in looting and vandalizing of business premises, including eye clinics.”
She praised health practitioners for exhibiting ingenuity in patient care, despite the numerous challenges affecting the nation currently.
She charged delegates “to articulate strategies to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on delivery of visual services and also reduce the unwholesome practices by quacks.”
Similarly the Chairperson of the association’s Board of trustees, Dr Nwakuso Aruotu, decried the escalation of insecurity across society, saying it “put the country on the brink.”
“The association notes with great concern, the high spate of restiveness, abductions for ransom, rapes, unwarranted killings, distrust among communities, secession threats and all other crimes heating up our once peaceful environment.”
While hailing Lagos State government for its support for NOA, she urged it to “employ more optometrists in government hospitals and health centers, in order to serve populace, who were underserved.”
However, she called on all healthcare professionals to display mutual respect to all and in the best interest of their patients.”
“We shall continue to will continue to identify more openings for optometrists to be employed,” she pledged.
According to Dr Aruotu, the AGM will afford members the opportunity of electing a new set of executives and advised members “to conscientiously vote in the interest of optometry and our noble profession.”
In his welcome remarks, Lagos State Chairman of NOA, Dr. John Samssedi said the association is “the largest homogenous group of eye care professionals in Africa.”
“As professionals, sworn to care for eye health of Nigerians, we meet in a different state in the country, for our national conference and AGM, to explore newest developments in eye care,” he stated.
Samssedi said “the association started in Lagos in 1968 and this particular edition is one-of-a- kind, with Lagos as the host state.”
According to Dr. Nakeno Abada, other highlights of the programme which commenced on Tuesday June 23, were workshops, exhibitions, seminars and scientific sessions.
Sponsors of the event included Zenith Insurance, Skipper Eye-Q, Alpha Ophthalmics, Ocuville.
Many participants, including Engr Tony Akpokene, an exhibitor of academic books expressed satisfaction over the robust activities lined up for the conference.
Akpokene said the event, which maintained COVID-19 health guidelines, was well organized with robust sessions to enable medical professionals and all attendants to interact effectively.
In a keynote speech, notable media personality, Mr Olusegun Adeniyi highlighted the devastating impact of COVID-19 on eye health.
“Although more than three quarters of all blindness and visual impairment cases are either preventable or treatable, access to such care has shrunk considerably in the past one and a half years, due essentially to Covid-19 pandemic.”
“But even if there were no pandemic, utilization of eye care services in Nigeria has always been very low. With more than half the population living below the poverty line, it is understandable.”
“Yet, the lack of attention to optical health will have knock-on effects on the quality of life for our people. It is therefore time to innovate and scale up the provision of eye health services in Nigeria, starting from today. So, the theme for this conference could not have been more apt,” Adeniyi.
According to him, the enormity of the health challenge we face as a nation can be glimpsed from the fact that while the World Council of Optometry (WCO) prescribes one to 10,000 as the appropriate ratio for optometrists to population, he said “we are far from meeting that threshold. If the members of this association are 4,000 in a population of more than 200 million people, that means one Optometrist is serving about 50,000 persons.”
“When it is further revealed that there is significant disparity between urban and rural dwellers in eye care services uptake and that majority of Nigerians live in the rural areas, we can see the challenge clearly. In the eye care services context, the rural areas remain highly underserved and even where access exist, there are fewer eye care facilities, personnel and resources.”
“With the restrictions imposed by COVID-19 pandemic, the few interventionist efforts, such as medical missions, outreaches, community and eye health programmes, to bridge the gap to eye care access for rural communities have been severely hindered, invariably producing devastating consequences on eye health delivery for many of our people.”
“This has in turn led to the proliferation of unwholesome actors who peddle blindness in the name of eye care. In October 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) launched its first report on vision which established that changing lifestyles and limited access to eye care are among the main drivers of the rising numbers of people living with vision impairment, especially in Third World countries.”
“It is unacceptable that 65 million people are blind or have impaired sight when their vision could have been corrected overnight with a cataract operation, or that over 800 million struggle in everyday activities because they lack access to a pair of glasses,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General stated.
Dr Alarcos Cieza, who heads WHO’s work to address blindness and vision impairment, could not have put it better when he said: “In a world built on the ability to see, eye care services, including rehabilitation, must be provided closer to communities for people to achieve their maximum potential.”