An estimated 700,000 Ghanaians are currently living with glaucoma, a disease of the eye which is the major cause of irreversible blindness worldwide.
Out of the number, 60,000 have already gone permanently blind.
The alarming statistics make Ghana the leading country in glaucoma cases worldwide.
Addressing the launch of the World Glaucoma Week in Accra Wednesday, the National President of the Glaucoma Association of Ghana (GAG), Mr Harrison Abutiate, said 250,000 out of the total estimated affected people were ignorant of their condition.
The week-long celebration, which will be on the theme, “Beat Invisible Glaucoma”, is the sixth edition of the World Glaucoma Week.
Cause of Irreversible blindness
Mr Abutiate said glaucoma, a public health menace, continued to be a major cause of irreversible blindness in Ghana.
He said there were many forms of glaucoma but the severest type, which was very prevalent in Ghana, was the primary open angle glaucoma.
“This is characterised by optic nerve damage and poor blood supply to the nerve, resulting in visual loss and subsequently permanent blindness,” he added.
Intensive awareness creation
Mr Abutiate said that notwithstanding, the intensive awareness creation initiatives by stakeholders, including the GAG, the Ministry of Health (MoH) and others, were gradually yielding desired results.
“The menace can only be curtailed when awareness creation is intensified.
“By so doing, the people will be well informed about the causes, preventable measures, its severity and effects which will make them conscious in making strides to find their status and seek appropriate health care required,” he said.
He advised that the eyes be checked at least once a year to avoid the unfortunate incidence of permanent blindness.
How to improve the situation in Ghana
Mr Abutiate recommended that to improve the situation in Ghana, the MoH must increase the number of glaucoma drugs on the national health insurance scheme.
He also called for the abolition of duties on glaucoma drugs, since the treatment of the disease was supposed to be life-long but most patients stopped taking their medication because they could no longer afford the drugs.
He underscored the need for more awareness creation activities by all stakeholders, supported by the government.
“Prevention, they say, is better than cure. The more people hear the message, the more willing they will be to avail themselves of screening to prevent blindness,” he added.
Professional training necessary
The President of the Ophthalmological Society of Ghana (OSG), Dr Seth Fiadoyor, called for the training of more ophthalmologists to help in the fight against the disease.
He also called for infrastructure development in the various hospitals to improve the situation.
The Minister of Health
The Minister of Health, Ms Sherry Ayittey, launching the day, said the ministry was going to concentrate more on the prevention of public health diseases such as glaucoma.
She explained that prevention was not only better than cure but also cheaper and made more sense.
She expressed the ministry’s desire to support any awareness creation initiative by the GAG and any other institution.
“I want the education to go down to the people of the country, so this programme must be held in the marketplaces and the lorry stations where the public can be informed about the disease and not in this small room,” Ms Ayittey said.
According to her, she had taken notice of all the recommendations made by the GAG and promised to take positive actions on them.