When NGO sought media collaboration against blindness

It is an illness that is often ignored but according to analysts, it is also responsible for deaths especially in children. AGBOOLA BAYO writes on the menace caused by impaired sight.

Blindness, unknown to many people, in the last few years, is becoming one of the major causes of death globally especially among  children and the under-aged with Africa becoming one of the most affected continents in the world.

This and many other reasons, no doubt, culminated in the basis for an advocacy brief for media practitioners in Oyo, Ogun and Osun states on the need for timely intervention towards curbing the increasing menace in and across the country.

The advocacy brief for the media was put together by Seeing Is Believing (SIB), a non governmental organisation. It involves a comprehensive health care programme to get media attention about the need for extensive enlightenment and sensitisation on the dangers associated with blindness.

According to the SIB Cluster 1 country coordinator in Nigeria, Mr Clement Obayi, SiB, being a comprehensive Eye Healthcare Programme that contributes to the reduction of avoidable visual impairment through the provision of quality eye care for children under the age of 0 – 14 years, needs  the  media organisations as partners towards giving adequate support to the education and sensitisation of the masses on the need for proper care of their eyes which is a vital organ of the body.

“Seeing is Believing is a three- year comprehensive child eye health Initiative implemented in four clusters with the cluster one comprising Oyo, Osun and Ogun states, while cluster two comprises the Federal Capital Territory Abuja, Nasarawa and Plateau states. Cluster three is for Kano, Jigawa and Katsina states, while cluster four comprises Akwa Ibom and Cross River states.”

Mr Obayi stressed that the three-year scheduled initiative which is been organised and implemented by Brien Holden Vision Institute and Christobel Blinden Mission with a community investment partnership with the Standard Chartered Bank in Collaboration with International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) and Eleta Eye Institute. According to him, the initiative is carried out through the availability of public healthcare per local government in which case Oyo, Ogun and Osun states fall into the first cluster of 4, saying, people between the age of 0 – 14 who are victims of eye related issues can go for free treatment in the various public healthcare building in their municipal areas where they can be transferred to the secondary healthcare, some of which are Ring Road Hospital and Eleta Eye Institute which is the tertiary healthcare facilities in case there are critical issues.

According to the cluster coordinator, Cluster 1,  an estimated 253million people are now blind or visually impaired globally and that of the 253million,  217million people are visually impaired while 36million are blind. The estimated data include approximately 19million children who are blind or have a vision impairment, saying, considering the rate of blindness globally, there is the urgent need for the Nigerian government to formulate policies on child eye problem in and across the country. 

He stressed that in Nigeria, 84 percent of blindness is due to avoidable causes with cataract as the commonest cause of blindness. It constitutes 43 percent and uncorrected refractive error, he said is responsible for 57.1 percent of moderate visual impairment. He pointed out that findings shown that over 50 percent of children die within 1-2 years of becoming blind as the condition is also the cause of child mortality. Delayed treatment in children, he noted can lead to irreversible impairement.

Obayi added that in continuation of CBM contributions towards reducing preventable eye impaired problem in Nigeria, he said, “This programme is meant to promote, prevent, cure, rehabilitate/educate components of child eye health which is being implemented by Brien Holden Vision Institute (BHVI) in partnership with the Standard Chartered Bank.” He noted that SIB under the programme has trained 2,388 health workers at primary health centres and as well trained 163 eye care specialists while over 1.5 million children have been screened for eye challenges in all the cluster areas.

“We have primary health centres in all local government areas we covered with drugs free of charge for the children with eye challenges. We have secondary care units in each states we covered, like in Ibadan, there is Eleta Eye Institute and Ring Road Hospital where you can get both drugs and devices for children with eye challenges. We also have some health education schools for the eye impaired children, like the Omonigbeheyin School for the Blind and Handicapped in Ibadan.”

Expectations from the media

On what is expected of the media, the cluster coordinator said, “The media should help us to produce documentaries highlighting issue of child eye health in Nigeria. They should provide platform for live phone-in discussion programmes on child eye health; there should be air jingles on child eye health issues and the print media should provide columns designated for eye health awareness.”

In her presentation titled, ‘Role of Media in Child Eye Health, the Oyo state Chairperson of Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Mrs Jadesola Ajibola, emphasised that the media plays a significant role in the society by showcasing all sectors in a developing country and that there is the need for

the media to sensitise and educate the public in order to understand the importance of child eye care, to engage experts of eye-related issues, and set agenda for stakeholders especially the government to provide necessary healthcare delivery services for children.

The group managing director of Eleta Eye Institute represented by  Mr Francis Arogundari tasked the media to join in the crusade of ridding the society of blindness especially among the children saying, “We need your cooperation in orientating and creating awareness for people about health especially in the area of eye care.”

He stated that it is the responsibility of the media to emphasise on sensitisation of eye care in their various states saying, cases regarding the issues of eye care are under – reported. “When we go out to observe free screening for eye personnel, we see indigents in high numbers who need urgent attention in terms of eye care. We operate in Oyo and Ogun states and we’ve impacted into many life’s through the provision of free glasses, free surgeries, free eye drops to indigents and free training to teachers in special schools in the two states. Sometimes ago, we tried to engage the government and some stakeholders but our moves yielded no result until we wrote a proposal to Standard Chartered Bank and they approved. If children are not taken care of but left to go blind, we’re not securing our future leaders.” he said.

Media practitioners at the one day programme, however, unanimously pledged their readiness to contribute positively towards enlightening the populace on the need to guide against blindness especially among  children.

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