Continuing series of interviews about health situation in Africa, African Politics and Policy is delighted to share with the readers the interview with the eye care expert and ophthalmologist Dr. Amir Bedri, who is working in the LIGHT FOR THE WORLD organization.
APP: Light for the World has 28 years of experience in eye care provision. What has changed in your approach during and what has remained unchanged in this period?
Dr. Bedri: LIGHT FOR THE WORLD has been supporting eye care in its priority countries for nearly three decades now. It has always supported countries in their implantation of eye health programmes and projects based on the respective national priorities in line with the global initiative VISION 2020 – The Right to Sight and now its successor the Global Action Plan – Universal Eye Health 2014 – 2019. It supports infrastructure development, disease control and human resources development for eye health.
APP: You said that 80% of blindness is preventable and can be easily treated. How does your organization contribute to preventing blindness?
Dr. Bedri: It is estimated that 80% of causes of blindness and visual impairment are avoidable, i.e. they are either preventable or treatable. Blindness and visual impairment have significant socio-economic costs to the affected individuals and the society at large.
LIGHT FOR THE WORLD supports starting from primary eye care activities and mass drug administration of the antibiotic Zithromax in trachoma endemic areas to prevent blindness from trachoma to secondary eye care units and tertiary training institutions to build human resources for eye health capacity for our priority countries. Our partners provide surgery to treat patients with cataract, the major cause of blindness in the world.
APP: Given your years of experience, what are the main eye problems people face in Africa? What reasons have determined these problems? and how could they be prevented, avoided and possibly eliminated?
Dr. Bedri: The major causes of blindness and visual impairment in Sub Saharan Africa are cataract, glaucoma, uncorrected refractive errors, and in some endemic countries trachoma. The main reason for these conditions leading to blindness and visual impairment is the inadequate eye health services prevailing in Sub Saharan Africa. The most critical factor is the shortage and maldistribution of human resources for eye health.
Efforts are underway to control the leading infectious cause of blindness, trachoma, through the implementation of the WHO-recommended SAFE strategy (http://www.who.int/blindness/causes/trachoma/en/) in many endemic countries targeting to eliminate blinding trachoma as a public health problem by the year 2020.
Cataract is mainly age-related and cannot be prevented but it could easily be treated by surgical means provided countries have the necessary skilled human resources for eye health and the infrastructure.
APP: You’ve clearly shown that eye-diseases and related disabilities have huge social costs and they represent a serious obstacle for the socio-economic development of African countries. Yet, it seems that in spite of how serious and costly eye-diseases are, they do not receive as much media coverage as other diseases. Do you agree with our assessment and what do you think you could and we could do to raise awareness?
Dr. Bedri: I do agree with your assessment of the current lack of coverage in the media regarding blindness and visual impairment. We have to have sustained advocacy to raise awareness about eye diseases in communities through the media. As I already mentioned, the major cause of blindness globally is cataract; and yet it can easily be treated by a surgical procedure, which is considered as one of the most cost-effective intervention there is. Eye diseases such as trachoma and vitamin A deficiency are entirely preventable through primary health care activities. The media can get the word out and raise awareness about eye diseases to gain attention by policy makers within the ministry of health of respective countries to be given the priority they deserve.