Francois Sinamenye lived with vision difficulties for a long time. Because of blurred vision, the 48-year-old taxi driver experienced hardships while on job. He constantly sought advice from his colleagues who did nothing more than attributing his poor vision to the long working hours.
Such conclusions kept him going until he discovered the truth through an outreach programme by eye experts in Kigali. Surgical treatment and a pair of correctional lenses followed the identification of both cataracts and myopia.
Many vision-impaired persons live with eye defects or infections without seeking medical attention for long. But consequences such as terminal blindness abound.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 39 million people worldwide are blind, while 246 million people live with moderate or severe visual impairments.
Two-thirds of blind children die within two years following loss of eyesight and 80 per cent of all cases of blindness icould be treated or prevented.
In Rwanda, a similar report released by WHO in 2012 indicates that one out of 100 people is visually impaired.
Dr Chiku Mathenge, the director of Dr Agarwal Eye Hospital in Kigali, says people choose not to seek medical attention.
“The major cause of blindness in Rwanda is cataract, trachoma and glaucoma (pressure that damages the optic nerve) while poor vision is caused by refractive error such as myopia,” Dr Mathenge says.
Eye infections and defects
Eye infections occur when harmful microorganisms — bacteria, fungi and viruses invade any part of the eyeball or surrounding area. This includes the clear front surface of the eye (cornea) and the thin, moist membrane lining the outer eye and inner eyelids (conjunctiva).
Typical symptoms of eye infections include red eyes, pain, eye discharge, watery eyes, dry eyes, light sensitivity, swollen eyes, swelling around the eyes, itching and blurry vision.
A common infectious disease is trachoma, an ancient eye infection associated with poverty and poor hygiene. Trachoma is a contagious bacterial infection that affects the conjunctival covering of the eye, cornea, and eyelids.
Since it is associated with poverty, only a limited number of patients would seek the required medical attention.
Aging and eye cataracts
Dr Alex Nyemazi, an ophthalmologist at Rwanda Military Hospital, Kanombe, has been part of several teams treating eye problems within prisons, rehabilitation centers and rural areas such as Rwamagana.
“Eye problems in most cases reflect people’s age. Above 40 years, eye problems tend to grow in Individuals,” Dr Nyemazi says.
In this category, common eye defects include cataracts, which worsen with time if the patient does not seek timely medical attention.
Cataracts make light from the sun or lamps seem too bright or glaring. Drivers may notice at night that the oncoming headlights cause more glare than before with colour appearing less bright.
This clouding of the eye’s natural lens, which lies behind the iris and the pupil, is said to be prevalent than glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.
According to health experts, as we age, some of the protein may clump together and start to cloud a small area of the lens producing a cataract, and over time, it may grow larger and cloud more of the lens, making it harder to see.
Sandrine Nyirabihogo, a resident of Kimisagara, was operated on for cataracts that she says had worsened her eyesight overtime.
“I could view images but faintly, until I reached a point when all I could see almost nothing,” she says.
“Most eye cataract cases have to be corrected through operation,” Dr Nyemazi adds.
Good food sources of vitamin E include sunflower seeds, almonds and spinach. Good sources of lutein and zeaxanthin include spinach, kale and other green, leafy vegetables.
Other studies have shown that antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin C and foods containing omega-3 fatty acids may reduce eye defects.
Wear protective sunglasses that block 100 percent of the sun’s UV rays when you are outdoors.