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Your child’s eyes belong to him forever – give him the right start and he’ll never be out of sight

“Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday, Happy birthday.” That was the song I heard from members of my family that morning. My older sister who is 15 years old said, “Oh Lizzy, you look so beautiful, how I wish you could see how beautiful you look in the mirror.” I burst into tears thinking this is how I would spend the rest of my life in darkness. How could a 12-year-old girl be totally blind because of her parents ignorance?

I was told my parents noticed whitish speck in my eyes at the age of three years. I was taken to a hospital where they were told I had bilateral cataract and surgery was advised. My grandmother refused vehemently saying that “how can a young child undergo surgery? No one has ever undergone surgery in the family.” And my parents agreed with her.

Both eyes were later couched by an itinerant native doctor three years after I started bumping into objects and that was how I became completely blind. All efforts to regain vision following this crude intervention  were unsuccessful.

This is one of the many sad stories from parental ignorance.

One blind child is equivalent to two blind adults. Why? If someone becomes blind at the age of 50 years, he will probably live another 20 to 25 years before he dies. A blind child has at least 50 blind years to contend with. Forty-five per cent of blind children become blind from avoidable causes. A child’s quality of life and neurological development are highly dependent on adequate vision.

With compromised vision, there are serious implications on a child’s overall progress and quality of life. This poses educational, occupational and social challenges, with affected children being at risk of behavioural, psychological and emotional difficulties, impaired self-esteem and poorer social integration.

Globally, approximately 19 million children are estimated to be visually impaired and 12 million of these are due to refractive error alone. This is a condition which can be easily diagnosed and treated if detected early. Child eye health is an important aspect of child’s health which is an integral part of medical care for children.

The preventable causes of blindness include corneal scarring due to vitamin A deficiency, measles, ophthalmia neonatorum, application of harmful traditional eye medications and infective corneal ulcers. Blindness from retinopathy of prematurity is also preventable a condition which commences soon after birth especially in premature children is not uncommon.

The treatable causes include refractive error, childhood cataract, childhood glaucoma, retinopathy of prematurity, uveitis and corneal infections. These treatable cause are better managed early in the course of the disease because delayed treatment often leads to permanent blindness. And if it is in one eye, amblyopia also known as “Lazy Eye” can follow.

Your child’s eyes belong to him forever – give him the right start and they’ll never be out of sight!

 

Dr. Olubusayo Adejumo is Consultant Ophthalmologist, Marilyn Miller Centre for Child Eye Health, Eleta Eye Institute, Ibadan.

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