In honour of ‘World Sight Day 2019’, our Public Health Expert this week will be sharing extensive information about eye care. Do feel free to ask her any questions related to her work!
Dr Monye Henrietta Ifechukwude is a resident doctor at University College Hospital Ibadan, Nigeria. Prior to her residency, she was a research coordinator at The Eye Specialist Hospital (TESH) and Consumer Awareness Organisation (CAO). She obtained her MBBS degree from the University of Nigeria and bagged a Masters of Public Health for eye care from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). Having worked in reputable organisations both at home and abroad, she continues to advocate for better awareness and accessibility of eye health services.
- The 2019 World Sight Day call to action is ‘Vision First’. What message would you want to stick to the minds of Nigerians going forward?
Three out of every four cases of blindness and visual impairment can be treated or avoided. A comprehensive eye exam is the first step to maintaining healthy eyes. Put your Vision First! Take an eye test today.
- How can eye care professionals and experts team up to reduce the burden of visual impairment in Nigeria before 2030?
Teamwork is key in reducing the burden of blindness and visual impairment in Nigeria. There is a need for mutual understanding and appreciation of the invaluable role of each cadre of eye health workers in creating a formidable force to combat blindness. We can also explore innovative ways of collaborating with other sectors (such as education and social services) and with other health care disciplines in order to maximize resource use and achieve a wider reach.
- What eye care policies exist in Nigeria? Are you aware of any ongoing national blindness prevention programs implemented by the government and Ministries of Health?
Nigeria is one of the countries with a national eye care plan following the World Health Assembly Resolution in May 2013. The National Eye Health Programme in collaboration with stakeholders is involved in tackling blindness and visual impairment in the country. This programme is replicated across states in the country and has been quite successful in some states such as Lagos.
Over the past year, President Muhammadu Buhari’s Restore Vision Project, an initiative to provide 10,000 free cataract surgeries across the 36 states of the federation was successfully executed. The initiative is a partnership with federal and state governments, with support from The Ophthalmological Society of Nigeria (OSN), Sight Savers and some other organisations. (https://www.eyehubnigeria.com/10000-cataract-surgeries-campaign/).
- How would you describe our efforts in achieving the objectives of VISION 2020?
VISION 2020 is a global initiative to eliminate avoidable blindness by 2020. In terms of achieving this broad goal, we may still be a long way off but we are certainly not where we used to be. The Nigerian National Blindness Survey (2005-2007) has provided comprehensive evidence of the magnitude, burden, and causes of visual impairment and blindness in the country.
Special programmes to tackle some of these diseases are being implemented, such as the “Seeing Is Believing Project” by Christoffel Blinden Mission (CBM) which is currently providing free eye care to children across the country. Screening programmes for Diabetic Retinopathy among diabetics (in conjunction with Endocrinologists) and Retinopathy of Prematurity (in conjunction with Paediatricians) are also being established in some centers.
Though awareness of the causes of blindness and visual impairment is gradually increasing, a lot of work still has to be done to correct misconceptions and improve eye health-seeking behaviour. Other major challenges include inequity in the distribution of resources for eye health and poor accessibility (physical and financial) of eye health services.
- Your website www.eyehubnigeria.com is quite interesting. Can you tell us more about it?
EyeHubNigeria is an eye health promotion initiative created to raise awareness about eye health in Nigeria and beyond. Our blog posts shed light on a wide range of topical eye health issues – misconceptions about eye diseases and their management, harmful eye care practices, how to promote good eye health, etc.
We provide information on important upcoming eye health events and activities and the location of eye health services across the country using interactive maps (Eyefinder section). For instance, the eye health activities taking place across the country to mark World Sight Day 2019 can be found on our website (https://www.eyehubnigeria.com/world-sight-day-2019-in-nigeria-visionfirst/).
Our eye health educational videos also provide key eye health messages in a concise and simple form.
- London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine runs a competitive program. Can you run us through your time there? Any advice for anyone seeking admission into the MPH program at the university?
My time at the LSHTM was exceptional and enriching both personally and professionally. I had the privilege of learning from, and studying with some of the best professionals in their respective fields. My programme was Public Health for Eye Care. It changed the trajectory of my career and re-fashioned my thought-process as a physician. My advice to any prospective MPH student would be to totally go for it, and to be sure to maximize the numerous opportunities the school has to offer.
- I read your publication on ‘Awareness and Knowledge about glaucoma and proportion of people with glaucoma in an urban outreach programme in Southeast Nigeria’. Currently, how would you propose eye care professionals in Nigeria increase the level of knowledge/awareness about glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a “Silent thief of sight”. The fact that it usually has no symptoms until it is too late is what makes late presentation a big issue in management.
We need to intensify awareness through various media – print, mass, and social media. Patients diagnosed with glaucoma should be encouraged to tell their families and friends about it. Glaucoma can be hereditary so family members of affected people need to have their eyes tested regularly.
Key messages should include the fact that glaucoma;
• is usually asymptomatic until quite late in the disease process
• is quite common in our environment (1 in 20 people)
• blindness is irreversible
• blindness can be prevented if it is detected early and managed appropriately
Overall, the safest way to beat this “silent thief of sight” is to have regular (annual) comprehensive eye exams so that the disease can be detected early and management can be instituted on time.
Dr Monye Henrietta Ifechukwude
Resident doctor, University College Hospital Ibadan, Nigeria
Anchor, EyeHubNigeria (https://www.eyehubnigeria.com)