Fixing Nigeria’s Eye Disease and Blindness Prevalence

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As Nigeria joined the rest of the world recently to mark World Sight Day, Martins Ifijeh writes on the need for stakeholders and the government to emulate the gesture of the Eyesight Restoration Intervention Scheme of MTN Foundation in fixing the high prevalence rate of the scourge

According to available statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO), about 90 per cent of all blind people live in poor and middle income countries, including Nigeria, and cataract, a highly preventable and treatable eye disease represents the major cause of blindness.

Experts believed in sub-Sahara Africa, the bulk of the burden is in Nigeria with over one million persons in the country said to be blind, while several millions are said to be suffering from one form of visual impairment or another, a scenario that makes the scourge a medical emergency needing aggressive intervention by stakeholders, the government and citizens.

As Nigeria joined the rest of the world to commemorate the day, experts say the high incidence rate of the scourge can be reduced through awareness on prevention of the various eye issues, availability of treatment facilities/professionals and the intervention by corporate bodies and individuals.

A director with MTN Foundation. Mr. Dennis Okoro said with about 3.1 million Nigerians clamouring for visual impairment treatment in the country, there was need for interventions to tackle the menace, adding that, “these individuals conduct their day-to-day activities with significant difficulty, with overwhelming majority of them lacking access to proper treatment or facilities. 80 per cent of the problem is highly preventable,” he added.

He said it was in this regard that the MTN Foundation, through its Eye Restoration Intervention Scheme was partnering with stakeholders to provide a new lease of life for patients across the country.

The intervention programme in its first phase, according to him, benefitted 33,364 patients in six states of the nation, including Niger, Sokoto, Jigawa, Abia, Delta and Osun states.

So far, in its second phase, over several thousands of patients with various eye problems have benefitted from eye surgeries, provision of drugs for treatment and distribution of eye glasses.

Recently, the Foundation collaborated with the Family Empowerment and Youth Reorientation Programme (FEYReP), the pet project of Akwa Ibom State First Lady, Mrs. Martha Emmanuel, to provide free treatment, surgeries, refraction error service and prescription of eye glasses for over 6,000 patients.

The Executive Secretary, MTN Foundation, Nonny Ugboma, at the exercise, said surgery was done for 2000 patients, 2000 pairs of glasses were distributed to those in need of them, while 2000 drug packs were given to those with various eye problems.

Akwa Ibom State is among the beneficiaries of the Phase 2 MTNF EyeRIS project.

The Executive Secretary said MTNF EyeRIS project was just one of the many projects under the health portfolio of MTN Foundation, with other notable projects under this portfolio including the Medical Support Project (MSP), the Annual MTNF Community Health Screening project and the MTNF Sickle Cell Project.

She said the Foundation also invests in education and economic empowerment portfolio across the country and so far, have invested over $56 million or (N10 billion) in carrying out projects in 344 sites across the 36 states of Nigeria and the FCT.

She advised other corporate organisations in Nigeria to further explore ways of helping people in the country the same way the Foundation has done. “I believe that a healthy Nigeria is a better Nigeria. We believe in partnering and complementing the efforts of the governments at local, state and federal levels.

“This is why MTN has committed voluntary contributions of one per cent of its profit after tax, to the Foundation for the execution of projects that are in the interest and directly benefit its stakeholders and communities across Nigeria.
“Indeed, the success of Corporate Social Investment (CSI) initiatives is measured by the impact and sustainability of the projects on the host communities. The beneficiaries of the MTNF EyeRIS have the sight for life; that is sustainability,” she said.