World Sight Day is globally observed every second Thursday of October to raise public awareness on blindness and vision impairment as a major public health issue, to influence Ministries of Health to participate in and designate funds for national blindness prevention programs and to educate target audiences about blindness prevention. This World Sight’s Day landed on the 14th of October with the theme; #LoveYourEyes accompanied by an echoing message; do everything possible to protect your eyesight, prevent sight loss, preserve and prioritise your vision quality.
Kenya celebrated the event at The PanAfric Hotel in Nairobi. The Executive Director of Kenya Society for the Blind, Samson Waweru invited everyone to think about the importance of their own eye health. Mr Samson, who is Visually Impaired said ‘ We who are living with blindness are very selfish. We do not want anyone else joining our league in the dark. It is not easy navigating life without sight, and there’s no reason for you to lose sight of the world when you can prevent that.’The director also added that non-reversible cases of visual impairment meant rehabilitation. ‘When medicine cannot reverse or treat causes of blindness, then rehabilitation sets in. KSB is here to ensure that persons with Visual Impairment live productive and independent lives.’ The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) coordinates World Sight Day (WSD) which was officially observed in the year 2000 and has been adopted and marked in different ways across nations since then. Kenya adopted the occasion through the Ministry of Health who have engaged various stakeholders including The Kenya Society for the Blind (KSB) whose mandate is to promote the welfare, education, training and rehabilitation of the visually impaired in the country and to assist in the prevention and alleviation of blindness.
The significance of WSD is to encourage the Ministry of Health to actively support and invest in universal eye health because of its impact in employment, education, quality life, poverty and other sustainable development goals. The Christian Blind Mission (CBM), an international Christian Development organization committed to improving the quality of life of persons with disabilities in the poorest countries of the world, addresses poverty as a cause and a consequence of disability. ‘When addressing disability issues like blindness, service delivery should be inclusive, rehabilitation and integration is key to ensuring persons with blindness live independently and that their rights and freedoms are comprehensive and protected.
Speaking at a breakfast conference at PanAfric Nairobi, Dr. Stephen Gichuhi; an ophthalmologist with special training in clinical epidemiology, states that the major causes of blindness in Kenya today are preventable, treatable and manageable. ‘If you truly love your eyes, take care of them. Our eyes can tell us so much about general health. Screening your eyes at least once a year allows doctors to detect early signs of blindness causing diseases and allows them to treat these conditions. If you detect a change in your vision, consult an ophthalmologist as soon as you can.’ Dr. Gichuhi also added that the biggest impediments to healthy vision in Kenya included prolonged use of technology on our eyes. He said. ‘The use of gadgets has become an integral part of our lives. You need to be keen on creating a friendly work environment on your screens. For every 20 minutes spent using a screen, try to look away at something that is 20 feet away from you for 20 seconds.’ The ophthalmologist went on to add that our eyes are largely affected from severe sunlight and workplace accidents. He recommended conscious blinking, regular breaks, good posture and optimum lighting to reduce glare on the monitor.
The Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC), which is a training institution for medical practitioners stated that the Eye Health sector in Kenya was lacking in several ways and pleaded with the government to increase Eye Health Workers by providing more sponsorships and scholarships. ‘The biggest employer of Eye Health workers is the government. There are many jobs but the skillset out there is limited owing to the fact that the training of eye health workers is very expensive.’ KMTC is dedicated to providing quality training to medical students and ensuring quality medical service in the country.
Dr. Michael Gichangi of the Ministry of Health (MOH) noted that the practise of medicine required high collaborative efforts and that the government of Kenya through MOH was working hard to include Eye Health in the Universal Health Coverage. He also stated that the Eye Health sector was advancing. ‘MOH will be launching an APP that allows for deportable eye examinations. Teachers everywhere will be taught how to use this APP to identify students who are visually impaired and refer them to specialised doctors.’
Stakeholders in Eye Health shared several ways of ensuring that the public took necessary measures to prevent eye-causing diseases by eating a healthy balanced diet, protecting their eyes from sight loss, preserving their vision quality by getting comprehensive eye examination and prioritising their Eye Health by getting their eyes screened routinely. The recommended screening times is every two years.o