Economy

Health chief warns elderly Kenyans with sight problems risk blindness

visual

Visual problems can be averted if Kenyans seek treatment early and develop a habit of going for regular health check-ups. PHOTO | FILE

The Ministry of Health has warned of rising cases of blindness as the elderly Kenyans fail to seek medical attention for curable eye problems.

Head of ophthalmology at the ministry Michael Gichangi said prolonged life expectancy, especially in rural areas, is a key driver of sight loss as blindness hit 220,000.

“Visual impairment increases with age and because people have started living longer, the cases have increased as you go further out of the Nairobi,’’ said Dr Gichangi who is also the chief ophthalmologist at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH).

“These visual problems can be averted if Kenyans seek treatment early and develop a habit of going for regular health check-ups, at least once a year since they now have support of the National Health Insurance Fund subscription.”

He spoke on Monday as KNH received a new eye machine. Dr Gichangi said other common causes of blindness are lifestyle related. Diabetes, cataracts, complications of trachoma, glaucoma, childhood eye diseases, and uncorrected sight problems can cause blindness, he said.

County hospitals are now fully equipped to address the most common eye problems, he said and urged Kenyans to avoid self-medication and seek treatment if they experience common eye conditions such as dryness and cataracts, among others.

Currently the country has 110 ophthalmologists, but needs at least 250 specialists well distributed across the country to adequately offer Kenyans quality services.

“There is a mismatch between the demand of childhood eye services and the human resources to provide them,” said Dr Hilary Rono, an ophthalmologist at Kitale District Hospital.

To bridge the gap, Dr Rono said, the hospital is using a the Portable Eye Examination Kit, a smart phone-based system developed by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, in an initiative that targets 200,000 pupils in 350 schools in Trans Nzoia County for screening over the next three years.