High rate of sight threatening Diabetic Retinopathy threatens SDG 3 in Ghana

Ghanaian Medics in eye care have lately been jolted to take action against diabetic retinopathy, a condition that threatens the sight of 270 thousand Ghanaians living with diabetes.

The issue became topical at the 27th annual general and scientific meeting of the ophthalmological society of Ghana which came off in Kumasi on the theme, “Diabetes and the eye.”

The condition which easily causes blindness in diabetics occurs when high blood sugar levels causes damage to blood vessels in the retina.

Twenty three year old Yvette Boakye has gone blind. She was diagnosed with Diabetes when she was eight. Little did she know that her vision was next to be taken by this disease.

She told Ultimate News’ Eno Safo, “I was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of eight. My mother took me to the hospital after she realized I was urinating frequently. When I was twelve, my vision was blurred. By then my mother had passed away and I had to go live with my brother.”

“My brother took me to the Manhyia hospital where I was given eye glasses but at a point I couldn’t see with the lenses. So I stopped using it but I managed to go to the Senior High School (SHS). When I was due to write my final year exams, my condition got serious. For now, I have lost my sight. I cannot see anything’.

Her brother Samuel Boakye almost driven to tears with the agony of his sister; says Yvette’s condition has had a big toll on the family.

“The whole family is sad about this situation. The doctors have told us it will be very expensive to manage our sister’s condition. All we are looking for is for her to regain her sight and live a happy life for the rest of her days on earth.”

“The National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) does not cover this kind of treatment. We have been asked to find twelve to fifteen thousand cedis for surgery. The doctors say they are not certain whether or not she will see again.”

Yvette is not alone in this. Phillip Atta Amponsah is sixty nine. He was diagnosed with diabetes when he was 63. He is still at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH) eye center receiving treatment. But for him he was lucky to retain some vision as his condition was identified early.

According to the maiden national blindness and visual impairment survey, diabetic retinopathy is the third leading cause of blindness in Ghana.

Speaking to Ultimate News on the sidelines of the conference, the Director of eye care services at the Ghana Health Service Dr James Addi indicated that as many as 27 thousand Ghanaians living with diabetes are bound to go blind if no deliberate national interventions are embarked on with urgency.

He pointed out that, “Of the 28 million Ghanaians, 270 thousand is estimated to have diabetes and 93 thousand have diabetic retinopathy and 27 thousand have vision threatening retinopathy”.

The situation even gets dire in Ghana as of all the 27 thousand patients with vision threatening diabetic retinopathy, there are only six retinal surgeons in Ghana both in private and public service. The whole country has only two ophthalmic nurses qualified enough to take fondal pictures needed to assess the extent of retinal damage,” he added.

Ultimate News also established that the cost of buying medical equipment to manage this condition is overwhelming for most private clinics leaving intense pressure on the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital and KATH.

Addressing the conference, the President of the Ophthalmological Society of Ghana Dr. Seth Lartey underscored the need for a harmonized effort at training more ophthalmologists and embarking on a national diabetic retinopathy screening programme to stem the tide.

The SDGs present a very broad and ambitious scope to the challenges that are associated with any laxity in dealing with vision threatening conditions.

Ghana’s situation with diabetic retinopathy does not yet paint the picture of SDG 3 where equitable and universal access to quality health care and social protection where physical, mental and social well-being are assured.

That’s not all. The rippling effect of this dire state of affairs which threatens the sight of 270, thousand Ghanaians, puts a crunch bar behind Ghana’s ability to achieve some other critical Goals in the frame work.

Take for instance SDG one which enjoins all countries to end poverty in all its forms everywhere. Evert’s chance of attaining full economic ability is hampered because she is gone blind needlessly. Her brother Samuel and the rest of her family would have to take on another burden of catering for her and if possible finding her rehabilitation which is woefully lacking in the whole of Ghana. Imagine that the only blinds rehabilitation center is in the capital Accra at the premises of the Ghana blinds union with just two basic schools for the blind and just a hand full of SHS and universities graduates taking care of persons with disability.

SDG 8 ‘‘Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.’

But Consider how the 93 thousand Ghanaians now confirmed to have some form of vision loss through diabetes will find their way into full and productive employment. Emphasis on full and productive employment as stated in SDG 8.

Take the SDG 10 which hopes to ‘‘reduce inequality within and among countries’.

If the nation has doctors to cater for any other disease in every region and Philip can only receive retinal surgery from only the capital Accra and in Kumasi, what is inequality if all patients with diabetic retinopathy should make a case.

Ghana is also signatory to VISION 2020 which demands the right of all to sight.

The country is also tied to meeting the Global action plan 2014 to 2019 on universal eye health which has as its vision “a world where no one is needlessly visually impaired.”

Clearly Ghana will have to double its efforts if it has to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) on comprehensive and accessible eye healthcare.

And as far as the media space continues to cause change expect that Ultimate News together with its sister and partner stations on the EIB Network will continue to high light Diabetic Retinopathy till something urgent is done for persons like Yvette, Philip and the 270 thousand persons living with diabetes in Ghana. Perhaps the risk of blindness will be reduced drastically if not eliminated.

By: Ghana/Ultimatefmonline.com/106.9FM/Eno Safo