My Humble Contribution To Ending Preventable Blindness In Uganda

Nathan Little with Vision 2020 in Uganda helping children

The Vision 2020 Links program is actually an outcropping of the Vision 2020: The Right to Sight Initiative.

One of the main motivations I had for engaging with the Links program was eradicating preventable blindness in Africa in general and within the underserved East African nation of Uganda in particular.

The Vision 2020 Links team, a group of ophthalmologists, orthoptists, and nurses from the Royal Free Hospital in London, led by consultant ophthalmologist Clare Davey, is on a mission to reduce preventable blindness in this underserved nation.

Pieces in the Puzzle

We are all truly pieces in the puzzle to cure blindness, which is why we have teamed up with Links partner institutes in Africa to treat the growing epidemic of preventable blindness among impoverished African populations.

As Vision 2020 was establishing its goals, we discovered early on that, although the prevalence of blindness can vary widely, approximately one percent of the African population is blind.

Understanding the Problem

​So, you might be asking yourself, "what causes this blindness and what can we do to help eradicate the problem?"

First, the scope of the problem: the World Health Organization found that sub-Saharan Africa's population alone accounts for over seven million of the world's 38 million blind individuals. The problem, and the reason that figure is so high, lies mainly in the lack of clinics and practicing ophthalmologists in Africa and poor access to quality eye care.

Professional eye exam in Uganda

That said, the issue of rampant blindness throughout Africa can be further refined. The main cause of blindness in Africa is cataract, or a clouding of the eye's normally clear lens. Particularly, untreated bilateral cataracts in which both eyes were affected and symptoms like doubled vision and faded colors progressively worsened accounted for a disproportionate share of blindness in Uganda.

Other contributing factors to the high rate of blindness are due to an increasing rate of diabetic related eye disease and glaucoma.

Preventable and Treatable

In fact, we now known that three-forths of blindness is the hard-hit nation of Uganda is preventable.

Moreover, three-forth of Ugandan blindness is also treatable as cataracts can be managed with cataract surgery, which effectively replaces a clouded lens with a plastic lens implant and helps Ugandans see more clearly into their advancing age. The problem, however, tends to be catching cataracts, bilateral cataracts and trachoma early enough before they result in eventual blindness.

Uganda also has some unique risk factors that, if left unaddressed, could result in more Ugandan suffering. Untreated or undiagnosed cases of Vitamin A deficiency and measles as well as more serious conditions like HIV and AIDS are significant etiological factors to blindness in Uganda. Trachoma in particular is a contagious bacterial infection featuring inflamed granulation on the interior surface of the lids and is a serious hygiene issue in Uganda and the second-leading cause of blindness in the nation.

Spotting Symptoms Early

Ugandan baby carried by mother in bag with strap

Screening patients at the local hospital and Chances for Children orphanage with Accutome's B-scans, AccuPen handheld tonometers, UBM Plus devices and PachPen handheld pachymeters really helped to screen patients for common eye disorders and spot symptoms before they developed into blindness or more serious conditions like trachoma.

The fact that all of our equipment was lightweight, highly portable, reliable, battery-powered and compatible with our laptops was a huge plus!

Vision 2020 Links helps address issues like bilateral cataracts, poor access to ophthalmological care, trachoma, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and other risk factors for developing blindness in a number of ways. Strategic partnerships identify the vision needs of particular populations and link those needs with the appropriate resources and institutions in order to facilitate better ophthalmological outcomes.

I also saw first-hand how orientations, steering groups, networking and joint discussions could put everyone on the same page and work to successfully pool resources.

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