- Botswana third worst for blindness

- Local optometrist reaches out to the poor

A person can begin to lose their eyesight at any age, and the ability to recognise signs and symptoms of vision loss is important for eye health.

Chairperson of the Botswana Optometrists Association, Thanuja Panicker-Naicker, says that noticing these signs is especially significant in young children because if certain eye problems are not addressed, vision may be lost permanently.

With a population of over two million, Botswana has 15,000 blind and 35,000 visually-impaired people, and it is the third worst in Africa for blindness, according to the National Eye Health Document of the Ministry of Health.

“I meet a lot of parents who choose to delay their children wearing glasses because they fear that wearing them too often will weaken their eyesight and that they will increasingly rely on them more often than when first worn,” Panicker-Naicker said.

However, she stressed that not wearing the right glasses, or any glasses at all if they are needed, can be damaging and have a long-term impact.

“Children’s eyes need to learn to see, so if they don’t have the right glasses they can develop lazy-eye or amblyopia,” she said.

An Optometrist at Vision Clarity, Panicker-Naicker has over the years been working in the community providing continuous sensitisation on the importance of eye care.

They also provide eye health coordination to target schools to combat childhood blindness and visual impairment of the elderly and personal assistance to the elderly and those with health care needs.

The Community service arm of Eye Light Optometrists offers free eye examination service quarterly to outreach areas including Tonota, Tsamaya, Rakops, Maun Selebi-Phikwe, Lobatse, Tsabong, Metsimotlhabe, Molepolole, Kopong, and Moshupa amongst others.

The clinic in Tloweng offers screening and glasses to patients who don’t have medical aid or could otherwise not afford specialist care every weekend. Every day the elderly and children less than 15 years also get free eye exams.

Last week, Eye Light Optometrists in partnership with Gaborone Greater Lions club conducted free eye screening for 41 elderly people in Maboane.

Twenty-three (23) elderly people were given reading spectacles at no cost and 20 were referred to the Government Hospital for the surgical line of management.

“Sight really is our most treasured sense and helps children to learn, adults to work and the elderly to live independent and dignified lives. We feel privileged to be able to provide this service,” she said.

According to Panicker-Naicker, people aged 40 and above stand the danger of contracting many eye diseases including Hyperopia, which is a defect in seeing from either close or far range, which normally affects their reading ability.

Most people however do not do anything about it because they assume that poor sight is a natural part of growing older. She said 80 percent of all blindness is avoidable.

Given the fact that the majority of blindness is treatable or preventable altogether, she stressed the need for continuous sensitisation to keep members of the public in the know.

The optometrist also appealed to the public to protect their eyes by way of sunglasses or goggles to prevent damage from Ultra Violet light, especially when exposed to UV light for prolonged periods of time.

“Just as the sun can burn our skin, it can burn the surface of the eye, and exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays has also been linked to serious eye conditions. This damage builds over time”.