Canadian NGO in Ghana to promote eye care

One of the factors accounting for the success of Operation Eyesight Universal, a Canadian NGO that seeks to save the eyesight of millions all over the world, has been leadership.

Dr Boateng Wiafe, a Ghanaian Ophthalmologist, who is also Operation Eyesight’s Regional Director for Africa, is a good example of the required guidance, stewardship and hard work that is preventing avoidable blindness in Africa, through healthcare and community development strategies.

Since getting involved some 25 years ago, Dr Wiafe has saved over a million patients across the continent and performs about 2000 surgeries a year, making him probably Africa’s busiest ophthalmologist, treating people who are nearly blind from infection and degenerative disease. A huge achievement in this arena.

Particularly so, on a continent where myths and misconceptions have pushed millions of people into blindness, many of whom indeed do not know there is help as their world goes dark; while others fear treatment.

“They cannot imagine that the eye can be worked upon while it is still in the socket. They think that the eye is plucked out, put in an open place, worked upon and put back,” said Dr Wiafe

Still others believe blindness is just part of aging, something they have witnessed as they watched their elders lose their sight. Superstition too is a fact of life in Africa. “They thought they were blind because someone bewitched them,” Dr Wiafe said.

However, he is trying to change those myths and misconceptions through Operation Eyesight Universal, which has been working in some of the world’s most impoverished regions to repair damaged eyes, treat infections and teach people how to avoid eye diseases altogether.

According to Dr Wiafe, in Africa, eye surgery is the least of the worries of those suffering from blindness and other visually impaired related diseases because it does not kill.

At least not immediately, but research shows that blindness cuts life expectancy in poor regions by about five years; it makes it tough for children to survive to adulthood, preventing them from going to school and slashing a family’s income.

Operation Eyesight Universal was established in 1963. In Africa, it has presence in Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and Zambia. In Ghana, the organisation supports the eye care programme in the Western Region and in the East Gonja District of the Northern Region.

In Kenya and Zambia for example, the organisation is trying to control the incidence of trachoma, an infectious disease common where there is poor sanitation and a lack of clean water and the second leading cause of blindness in Africa after cataracts.

The infection is caused by a bacteria that makes sufferer’s eyelids roll inwards, causing their eye lashes to scratch against their eyeballs, resulting in permanent damage.

The bacteria thrives in the unsanitary conditions found in some developing countries, and is commonly spread by flies or through contact between children and their mothers.

“Digging wells for fresh water and teaching proper hygiene can break the cycle of infection and blindness, Dr Wiafe said. “And on a continent where there is one ophthalmologist for every one to two million people, preventing the disease is easier than diagnosing and treating it,” he added.

The good news though, Dr Wiafe says, is that there is so much that can be done for a relatively small amount of money.

On May 30, 2010, Dr Boateng Wiafe was a guest speaker at the inauguration of the Zambia Ophthalmological Society in Lusaka, and at the function, he was given recognition as one of the two pioneers dedicated to the prevention of blindness in that country.

Source: Daily Graphic