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Joint message about a terrible duo, to be taken seriously

BY: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari

The month of March is International Glaucoma Awareness Month, and in view of the global current situation, I can’t help but see a kind of link between glaucoma and the Covid-19 pandemic. Both are devastating afflictions.

Yet, both can be prevented by following the prescribed measures.

Glaucoma Week is set aside by the World Glaucoma Patients Association and the World Glaucoma Association to create awareness about glaucoma; a perennial educational campaign.

With the Covid-19, perhaps thanks to the vaccination offensive, the fear and panic seem to have drastically reduced. It appears that many Ghanaians now believe that Covid-19 scare is over. Others even express doubt that it ever emerged in Ghana.

Anyway, the scepticism is not just in Ghana, and there are even global jokes about it, as illustrated by this humorous online posting: “The Russia-Ukraine war has removed Covid-19 from the news; for nearly 9 days now, nobody has died of Covid-19. Wonders shall never end!”

Still, these days, as soon as I get into a taxi, I tend to ask the driver why he’s not wearing a mask – because most taxi drivers I come across are maskless. Next, I remind them that people may be tired of masking up, but the disease certainly isn’t yet tired.

Most of them respond with a laugh; and then, explaining that they had taken it off for a breather, they put their mask back on.

The Covid-19 safety protocols drummed into all of us – masking up, handwashing with soap under running water, social distancing, etc. – underscore the fact that if we follow the safety advice, we reduce greatly the risk of getting the coronavirus disease; we will be protected.

Similarly, although glaucoma can lead to incurable, total blindness without warning, the good news is that it can be prevented. And the way to prevent it is to get one’s eyes screened by a specialist to know whether treatment is required.

As the eye examination is so critical to fighting glaucoma, when Ghana marks Glaucoma Week in March, free eye screening is always central to the observance.

So with both Covid-19 and glaucoma, the message is clear: prevention is better than (attempting to) cure!

“Glaucoma is a silent, blinding disease. If detected early the loss of sight can be halted, but if not, the deterioration will continue, resulting in total blindness,” Harrison Abutiate, President of the Glaucoma Patients Association of Ghana explains.

The danger with glaucoma is that it is a silent attacker as it shows no warning symptoms. This is why it’s dubbed ‘the silent thief of sight’.

To illustrate the stealth nature of glaucoma, and the importance of getting one’s eyes checked, I’ll take the liberty of telling my story again, how decades ago I escaped becoming a glaucoma blindness victim BY SHEER LUCK!

My luck was that years ago, while based in Paris, France, I was on a reporting assignment in Copenhagen, Denmark, when I happened to see an unusual invitation in a shop window. It said in English “Come in for a free eye test!”

Soon I found myself seated in front of a very friendly optician. Fortunately, she spoke good English. After the test, she told me that she had identified “a problem” and so I should have my eyes checked again on my return to Paris.

Another test in Paris confirmed that I had glaucoma. Notably, previously I had not felt any pain to alert me that my eyesight was in great danger.

I remain eternally grateful to the optician in Copenhagen and her company for their free eye testing service.

Without the test at that time, it could so easily have been a different, tragic story for me.

What if I had not been in Europe at that time?

What if I had not seen the notice in the shop window? And what if it had been in Danish, not English?

Naturally, I have been on eye drops since my Paris days decades ago.

This year, the World Glaucoma Week was marked from March 6, to March 12, under the theme, ‘The world is bright, save your sight’.

In Ghana, the formal launch of the Glaucoma Week 2022 took place on March 9 and there was, as usual, a free eye screening programme, courtesy of the Glaucoma Patients Association of Ghana, in collaboration with the Ophthalmological Society of Ghana and the Ministry of Health.

Glaucoma is the principal cause of irreversible blindness in the world, and “Ghana has a very high number of glaucoma patients,” Mr Abutiate said. Currently, “over 700,000 Ghanaians live with glaucoma and 60,000 are already blind from the condition.”

While health authorities keep warning that Covid-19 protocols need to be observed at all times, evidently another critical message, from the glaucoma prevention lobby, is: GLAUCOMA IS REAL; BLINDNESS IS REAL. GET A CHECK UP TODAY!

Mr Abutiate said that the free screening will continue until March 31 at all regional hospitals which have eye clinics and at the following hospitals:

Greater-Accra Region: Police Hospital; The Trust Hospital; Emmanuel Eye Clinic; Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital Eye Clinic; Cocoa Clinic; St. Thomas Eye Hospital, Osu and Mataheko; Tema General Hospital; Jireh Eye Clinic, Tema; Lekma Hospital, Nungua and Crystal Eye Clinic, Adentan.
Kumasi: Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital.
Sekondi: Effia Nkwanta Hospital.
Cape Coast: Cape Coast Eye Centre.
Tamale: Tamale Teaching Hospital.
Hohoe: Government Hospital
Ho: Government Hospital.
Sogakope: Comboni Hospital.
Agogo: Presbyterian Hospital.

I believe that my fortuitous experience vividly illustrates how crucial eye screening is. Needless to say, the message applicable to the terrible duo, to be taken seriously, is that Covid-19 is real and glaucoma, too, is real.

Like the coronavirus disease, glaucoma is not selective; anybody can fall victim. So, please take the opportunity offered and go for a free eye screening.

Equally importantly, please pass on the message about the importance of screening, even after March 31.

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