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Eye specialists attribute the many blindness cases in Uganda to eye health ignorance and poor lifestyles.

According to Dr. Simon Arunga Achaali, an eye specialist at Mbarara Referral Hospital, a person’s way of life determines their eye health.

“Today, more than before, many people eat fast foods, rely on cars for transportation, and do everything online instead of using their own energy. So we have escalating cases of diabetic retinopathy, a diabetic condition that is responsible for total blindness,” he said.

He notes that until recently, blindness was mostly caused by glaucoma and cataract, the most common eye diseases in Uganda. However, this has since changed due to use of technology which has brought about a dormant lifestyle, birthing diabetes-related infections.

“If one is not eating healthy and engaging in physical activity, it increases their blood diabetes levels which eventually can affect the eyes,” warns Dr. Arunga.

Dr. Arunga noted that regionally, these conditions are highest in western and central Uganda, compared to northern Uganda, as people living in the northern part are physically active because they walk long distances and ride bicycles for transportation, unlike in the other regions.

He is also concerned by the delay by patients to seek medical help. “What creates a problem is that sometimes patients delay to report for whatever reasons. Some even use herbal medicines on their eyes which is risky,” Dr. Arunga said.

According to Dr. Grace Ssali Nsibirwa, the chairman Uganda Ophthalmology Society, blindness can be avoided if people seek professional attention.

“One of the biggest challenges facing eye care service delivery in Uganda is the idea of patients treating themselves using traditional eye medicine,” she said.

Dr. Ssali also stated that there are 45million blind people with over 80% of them in low and middle-income countries, in which category Uganda falls. She however says that 80% of this blindness is avoidable.

According to Philemon Tumutegyerize Grover, project co-ordinator of the Diabetic Retinopathy Project, everyone should take eye health as seriously as any other aspect of their lives.

“It is important that we pay extra attention to the eyes as we do other parts like the heart and kidneys. Eye health should be taken seriously as some blindness cases such as those caused by advanced diabetic retinopathy, are non-reversible,” he adds.

Globally, every second Thursday of October is marked as World Sight Day, a day set aside to draw global attention to blindness and vision impairment. This year, it is on 11th October, 2018 under the theme “Eye Care Everywhere”, and Uganda’s celebrations will be held in Lyantonde district.