FG inaugurates 3 policy documents to improve eye health

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By Justina Auta/Folasade Akpan

The Federal Government on Thursday in Abuja inaugurated three policy documents to improve vision and eye health in the country.

The inauguration was with support from Sightsavers Nigeria and other partners as part of activities to commemorate the 2023 World Sight Day.

Dr Tunji Alausa, the Minister of State for Health and Social Welfare, said the policy documents and unveiling of the Refractive Error Initiative were part of government’s strategic guidelines to improve eye health in the country.

The documents included: The National Eye Health Strategic Development Plan (2024-2028); Diabetic Retinopathy Screening and Management Guideline; and the Nigeria Glaucoma Guidelines and Toolkit.

Alausa said about 24 million Nigerians were living with treatable sight loss, majorly caused by untreated cataract and uncorrected refractive errors, hence the initiatives would aide in addressing it.

He said: “These initiatives will build the foundations to deliver change across the life course.

“Access to eye health services for school children through school eye health programmes, establishing the potential to unlock learning for millions of children being held behind.

“Integration of eye health services into primary healthcare to ensure treatment of basic issues and delivery of spectacles, ensuring working age people and the elderly access timely treatment, and early detection and referral of those with cataracts.”

According to him, these interventions will be coordinated through the National Eye Health Programme (NEHP) in the ministry.

He added that the 3 to 4-year long-term road map to improve access to refractive error services to build capacity of personnel, improve population education, reduce the cost and strengthen surveillance would be implemented in collaboration with partners.

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“This will be implemented by the NEHP in partnership with multiple stakeholders, expand training of primary health workers in eye health, provide key platform for the delivery and integration of eye care services.

“Development of a sustainable procurement and delivery process for spectacles by upgrading existing eye care departments one state at a time.

“A philanthropy component will dispense free glasses to the poor to be verified by social registers.

“A spectacle revolving system from a seed of donated glasses will provide subsidised glasses to other citizens,” he said.

Alausa added that the initiative was to strengthen the eye health system to contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), empowering Nigerians to learn, earn and thrive.

Dr Oteri Okolo, the National Coordinator, NEHP Programme at the ministry, said about 1.3 persons in Nigeria were blind, hence the commitment to eye health activities through implementation of national policies, plans and guidelines for systematic implementation nationwide.

Okolo said the National Eye Health Strategic Development Plan (2024-2028) policy document represents the commitment of the government to the attainment of the highest quality of eye health for its people.

She explained that the diabetic retinopathy screening and management guideline was a framework critical to making the needed impact by increasing the opportunity for prevention and prompt treatment at early stages.

Meanwhile, the Nigeria Glaucoma Guidelines and Toolkit outlines collective action, based on an integrated patient-focused model is meant to tackle Glaucoma in the country.

“Implementation of both guidelines by the NEHP will begin in a few weeks with an initial training of healthcare providers with funding and technical support from Novartis, Sightsavers and Glaucoma Net of the International Centre for Eye Health, London, through the Institute for Advanced Medical Research and Training, University of Abuja.

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“We hope for full implementation and whole country scale up in the nearest future as government and the private sector increases investment in eye health.

“Government cannot do this alone. Quality services to tackle glaucoma should be present in all secondary and tertiary facilities while registers for all diabetic patients embedded with a call, re-call system for annual screening and scheduled treatment where indicated is the goal,” she said.

In his part, Dr Sunday Isiyaku, the Country Director at Sightsavers, emphasised the importance of eye health on the lives of individuals, families and communities, help nations to thrive, reduce poverty and inequality.

Isiyaku added that prioritising and investing in eye health will enable the country to achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC), the Sustainable Development Goals and meaningful development.

He, therefore, pledged that Sightsavers would support the Federal Ministry of Health implement the national policies to improve vision and eye health of its citizens.

“The national eye health strategy is a roadmap to improving eye health services.

“This strategy is a guiding document to steer the direction of eye health for the next five years,” he said.

The highlight of the event was the unveiling by the First Lady, Mrs Oluremi Tinubu, as a Vision Champion. (NAN) (www.nannews.ng)

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Edited by Muhammad Suleiman Tola

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