Uganda has only 40 eye specialists

Uganda eye specialists (ophthalmologists) have expressed concern over what they termed as continued negligence eye care by government.

The doctors, under their umbrella organization of Uganda Ophthalmology Society, appealed to the executive and parliament to increase funding to their sphere of health sector, the New Vision reports.

The ophthalmologists from both public and private hospitals made the remarks Tuesday during their sensitization and eye screening undertaking for the staff and Members of Parliament which was inaugurated by the Speaker Rebecca Kadaga who was also screened.

The Uganda Ophthalmology Society president Dr. Grace Ssali Nsibirwa said, “Eye healthcare is neglected by our government. That is why in the ministry of health, eye care was not given its own department but it was put under the unit for disability and it is headed by someone who is not an ophthalmologist.”

Nsibirwa revealed that from the reports arising out of the work they do, they have realized that the diabetic eye disease (diabetic retinopathy) is on the rise.

She attributed the rise to changes in the lifestyles of Ugandans especially the unhealthy food they eat.

Nsibirwa said many other eye diseases glaucoma, cataract, refractive errors and many others are on the rise some of which are caused by poor hygiene.

She stated that glaucoma, which is the leading cause of irreversible blindness (Though avoidable once detected and intercepted early), has also been on the rise with a prevalence of 6.3% to 8.3% of the eye patients in the country.

Emphasizing the need for routine screening, the leader of eye specialists said most of the eye illnesses can be treated if they are detected early.

The exercise at parliament is one of the precursor events as Uganda prepares to host a regional conference of eye specialists from eastern central and Southern Africa which will take place next week from 16th to 18that Munyonyo Speke Resort under the theme of Teamwork in Eye Care

The conference chairperson Dr. Anne Ampaire said, “We need teamwork of all stakeholders in promoting eye care for all. We don’t have money and we don’t have the necessities. That is why we have come to you the policy makers.”

Ampaire expressed fear that whereas the incidents of eye illnesses are on the rise and the country’s population has sporadically increased, the entire country has only 48 ophthalmologists of which 8 have retired.

She cited districts like Kabale, Masaka, Mubende and the whole of Karamoja as some of the areas without a single eye doctor.

Ampaire noted that as eye specialists, they eagerly wait for parliament to pass a Bill which will make organ transplant legal in Uganda because many people who go blind would have their eye sight saved through organ transplant of the cornea which they get from people who have just died.

The Speaker Rebecca Kadaga was shocked that the ministry of health doesn’t have a department for eye healthcare.

Kadaga pointed out many other diseases like cancer, diabetes, sickle cell, and many others which have been neglected by government.

She proposed the need for government to adopt a policy for routine medical checkups for all illnesses for people who go to public medical facilities for early detection of diseases which become incurable if detected in advanced stage.

“We need to broaden our perspective on health. Otherwise, we shall be letting down Ugandans. There is need to sensitize all policy makers to realize the need to give more funding to eye healthcare and other neglected health conditions,” Kadaga stated.

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