My Copenhagen story: indeed, ‘The world is bright, save your sight’!

BY: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari

It doesn’t bear thinking about that every year, scores of Ghanaians risk going blind from glaucoma, although their sight could be saved by a quick visit to a health facility for a simple eye screening.

Unfortunately, and shockingly, Ghana ranks high on the world’s glaucoma listings.

An Akan saying translates as ‘nobody sees darkness and chooses to walk into it’, but that is the choice unintentionally made by those who pay no attention to the need for eye examination.

They literally immerse themselves in pitch-darkness by disregarding eye testing advice because it’s only through the screening that glaucoma can be diagnosed.

At the launch of this year’s Glaucoma Week, on March 11, Harrison Abutiate, President of the Glaucoma Patients Association of Ghana, pointed out that Glaucoma is the principal cause of irreversible blindness in the world, and “Ghana has a very high number of glaucoma patients, estimated to be over 700,000; and about 60,000 are already blind from the condition.”

Indeed, a report in the Chronicle newspaper of March 15 quotes eye specialist Dr Kwadwo Amoah as saying that Ghana ranks second among the countries with high glaucoma cases, after St Lucia and Barbados.

Dr Amoah, Ashanti Regional Ophthalmologist of the Ghana Health Service (GES) explained: “These are Caribbean islands … (and) history tells us that the ancestors of these people came from Ghana ….”

Every year, the international community marks ‘Glaucoma Week’ in March and this year’s observance was from March 7 to March 13, under the stimulating theme, ‘The World is bright, save your sight’.

Explaining the objective of the Week, Mr. Abutiate said: “It is a week set aside by the World Glaucoma Patients Association and the World Glaucoma Association to create awareness about glaucoma ….

“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,” he emphasized.

Thus the urgent message of the annual, worldwide commemoration is: please get your eyes examined to know your glaucoma status. Getting one’s eyes tested at least once a year, is advised.

The danger with glaucoma is that it is a silent attacker as it shows no warning symptoms.

This is why the disease is dubbed ‘the silent thief of sight’.

Eye screening is the only way for somebody to find out if their sight is in danger so that they can begin treatment.

I like to tell my personal glaucoma story in this column at this time of the year in the hope that it will encourage some people to go for an eye test.

I believe that my experience vividly illustrates how crucial eye screening is.

Again as I have first-hand knowledge of the stealthy nature of the affliction, this is why I feel that every year I need to share my ‘Copenhagen story’, to testify that indeed glaucoma develops without warning.

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.

Not surprisingly, the weather was cold.

It was while I was walking about to keep warm, and at the same time window-shopping to while away the time before an interview appointment, that I saw in an optician’s shop window a sign that said in English “Come in for a free eye test!”

Could it be true? A free something in Europe?! I went in to find out.

Soon I found myself seated in front of a very friendly optician.

Fortunately, she spoke good English and also assured me that the test was truly gratis.

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 my base, France.

Another test in Paris confirmed what she had told me; there was indeed a problem: I had glaucoma.

Notably, previously I had not felt any pain to alert me that my eyesight was under serious threat. This is why eye specialists call glaucoma the “silent thief of sight”.

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?

Needless to say, I have been on eye drops since my Paris days decades ago.

Because of my close shave, I can well appreciate warnings about ‘silent’ and ‘invisible’ in relation to the importance of eye testing for glaucoma.

As March is ‘Ghana Month’, in view of the Independence Day commemoration, it seems to me that one of the activities that should be marked on the national calendar for March, should be ‘Glaucoma Week’.

Anybody can become a victim, obviously including those who decide which observances should be highlighted on calendars and in institutional diaries.

Furthermore, my thinking is that free eye testing could even be made part of the Independence Day programmes, supported by the Ministry of Health and the Ghana Health Service.

Clearly, the campaign to beat glaucoma is everybody’s fight. And why would anybody choose that darkness when sight could so easily be saved?

On my part, if by telling my Copenhagen story yet again I can get even one person, or a new reader of this column, to go for an eye test before it is too late for them, it would have been well worth the risk of boring the regular readers.

Reader, please get your eyes tested!

And I urge you to pass on the message: blindness through glaucoma can easily be avoided by just a painless eye test.

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