Growing problems in eye health

Eye health is a major issue affecting countries all around the world.

It is against this backdrop that representatives from 12 countries are in Barbados participating in the 27th Annual Conference of the Ophthalmological Society of The West Indies (OSWI) and discussing a solution to the problem.

Minister of Health John Boyce addressed local and visiting ophthalmologists and nurses attending the four-day conference regarding the growing problems in eye health that contribute in some instances to blindness.

The major causes of blindness include non-operated cataract, diabetic retinopathy, uncorrected refractive errors and glaucoma.

Boyce highlighted glaucoma as the dominating cause, deeming blindness in such cases as disturbing since it can be prevented with close monitoring and effective treatment.

Global statistics show that 60.5 million persons were diagnosed with glaucoma in 2010 with the figure projected to increase to 80 million by 2020.  The Barbados Eye Study showed that from 1988 to 1992, 1.7 per cent of the island’s citizens were blind.

The disease accounted for 73.2 per cent of blindness of which 7 per cent of the population was over the age of 40, one in 11 above the age of 50 while one in six were over 70.

Results from the study also showed a high instance of low vision with 73 per cent of the Afro-Caribbean population being blind.

Boyce stressed the need for increased numbers of cataract surgeries and promotion of early detection but named challenges such as finding cost effective ways for glaucoma screening and the absence of appropriate facilities and training programmes for budding ophthalmologists.

“The matter of eye care is an important part of the list of items that represent the effort to deliver quality health care to the Barbadian people,” he said, revealing steps to reduce troublesome visual impairments.

One hundred and ninety four countries, including Barbados, have signed on to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) ‘Towards Universal Eye Health: A Global Action Plan 2014-2019’ in addition to Vision 2020 also by the WHO.

Despite challenges related to financing and technical resources, Boyce noted that the Queen Elizabeth Hospital operates a weekly schedule of performing secondary and tertiary level eye surgeries which focus on addressing cataract and glaucoma.

In 2013, the first Microsurgical Wet Laboratory was opened on the island, allowing for training of ophthalmic residents to learn basic skills before performing surgery.

“This Conference is a commendable initiative that seeks to provide knowledge transfer, continuing education and most definitely maintain Barbados’ position as the regional’s leading medical care centre,” said Boyce.

Conference attendees will be exposed to new advancements in surgical technology specifically in glaucoma, retina and in ocular imaging.

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