World Health Assembly: Ghana Embraces Universal Eye Care for its Citizens

By Jessica Ahedor

The World Health Organization, WHO’s member states have at the Seventy-five World Health Assembly in Geneva adopted the resolution WHA73 – dubbed the “Integrated people-centered eye care, including preventable vision impairment and blindness”. This is to address the growing need for eye care services worldwide. The resolution saw, WHO “developed a guidance on an evidence-based and cost–effective eye care interventions and approaches to facilitate the integration of eye care into universal health coverage as the eye care lags behind.

The WHO, in consultation with the sector experts  developed a Package for Eye Care Interventions (PECI) that provides a set of recommendation to ensure health promotion and prevention, screening, diagnosis and monitoring, treatment and rehabilitation among the populace. Available data stipulates at least 2.2 billion people are with vision impairment and at least 1 billion people have conditions that can be prevented but are yet to access care services according to WHO. This figure represents only a fraction of the total need for eye care services globally. Even though, eye conditions are universal and progresses sometimes with age and exposure to other external factors.

Experts say, vision impairment remains one of the leading causes of financial burdens on economies across the globe with an estimated annual productivity loss of US$ 410.7 billion purchasing power parity. This figure far outweighs the estimated cost gap of addressing the unmet need of vision impairment which stood at US$ 24.8 billion. Ghana as one of the member states is to include eye care into the universal health care coverage with a special focus on non-communicable causes of impairment and removing the barriers of cost and access.

Unfortunately, not many Ghanaians have the habit of regular health checks; talk less of routine eye-checks, not even for free. A random check among a cross-section of Ghanaians to ascertain how often they do routine eye checks revealed some will not even do in a life time provided they don’t feel any pains. For some eye conditions are hereditary if not a punishment for wrong doing. Akosua Gyan is a 55 year-old trader says, visual impairment is as a result of generational curse for wrongdoing or something inherited. “In my family we don’t go blind because it is only those who are cursed. Others also inherit it because it is in their family. For me I have not done any eye check before”, she opined.

In a survey conducted by the Ghana Health Service in 2021, a total of 227,920 Ghanaians are blind, with 329,560 suffering severe visual impairment out of the 30,800,000 Ghanaian population. Dr. James Addy, head of eye unit at the Ghana Health Service says,  despite the success chalked in Glaucoma eradication, eye care services have been unable to keep pace with the increasing need associated with demographic, behavioral and lifestyle trends that have led, and will continue to lead, to an increase in the number of non-communicable eye conditions. He advised citizens take advantage of the available free screening services for early detection.

But Professor Samuel Kyei, of the department of Optometry and Vision Sciences, University of Cape Coast and an expert contributor to the WHO committee on eye care PECI for Ghana, says the timing is right for this resolution as a country because Ghana is seeing a surge in cataract and refractive error cases that demands urgent attention. “Our projections are to have 30% coverage for cataract and 40% coverage for refractive error because these two conditions are the leading cause of visual impairment in Ghana as we speak,”

He revealed that, the challenge may be access, since as a country the reality is that the vast majority of our eye care services are provided in secondary or tertiary hospitals, which are located in urban areas. But the solution therefore, will be strengthening both the inclusion of eye care services within primary health care, and ensuring an effective referral pathway to secondary and tertiary care settings for timely treatment of conditions and to be addressed, he said.

 

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