Sunday, November 16, 2014

Epidemic of Blindess

By Biko Agozino
 "We are pleased to announce THE IKEOHA FOUNDATION Four Days FREE Medical Eye Outreach for over 50,000 people in Enugu West Senatorial Districts and beyond. The Ikeoha Foundation FREE Eye Treatment Project is designed in line with the vision 2020 mandate of World Health Organization which is “prevention of avoidable causes of Blindness.”After a thorough research in the five Senatorial Districts of Enugu West by our partners, it was discovered that a wide range of eye related issues like Glaucoma, cataract, Pterygium which are all blinding cases , were quite prevalent in the zone and the causative factors was attributed to unhealthy habits, dusty environment, untreated systemic diseases , epidemics etc. Based on these traumatic findings, and the urgent need for intervention, Ikeoha Foundation in partnership with Community Eye Savers to the occasion by organizing this Four Days FREE Eye medical Treatment Project for the 5 Local Government Areas in Enugu West. The project is packaged to include: FREE Eye Treatment , FREE Drugs , FREE Medicated Eye Glasses ,FREE Surgeries and FREE Counseling. The project will be officially flagged off on Monday, 17TH of November 2014, by the Chairman of Ikeoha Foundation Senator, Ike Ekweremadu CFR. The programme Will continue through Oji River/ Awgu on the 18th, Ezeagu on the 19th and will be rounded off in Udi Local Government Area on the 20th"

Make we clap for Chief Doctor Ike Ekweremadu, Distinguished Deputy Senate President of Nigeria and Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, for serving the less fortunate, again, again. He done try. Let us hope that the different levels of government will live up to their expectations and provide primary healthcare for our citizens rather than abandon this to charity. The above report is disheartening not just because of the scale of the problem highlighted but also due to the limited approach that apparently disregards indigenous knowledge systems that may help to provide a solution by focusing on the preventive methods that may have kept many of our ancestors clear-sighted into their old age. If they were having eye-sight problems at the rate estimated above, our communities would all be blind by now. 

Instead of the usual Nigerian cynicism based on realism in suspecting that any major project like this is simply an opportunity to loot public funds, despite the fact that it is embarked upon by a charitable private foundation that has a track-record of doing good with the support of a public figure, let us all agree that there is a problem being identified by the Ikeoha Foundation not only in Enugu West, but 'beyond', to the rest of Africa where things like River Blindness and other eye problems have led to non-commicable epidemic cases of blindness. The question is not how much Ikeoha Foundation has budgeted for this worthy public service of free eye care, the question is whether the research conducted by the foundation also considered preventive care, especially by considering our traditional cultures which state that you do not pick your eyes with what is used to pick your ears?

50,000 patients for eye care in a population of roughly 600,000 seems too high for me. Why are our people going blind at such an alarming rate; is it because the leadership is without vision as the good book prophesied? And by leadership, I include all of us who can help if only by asking why, and not just make do with how to help treat the symptoms or how much is the budget. This calls for a major intervention in preventive eye care. Some may suspect the powerful eye-care industries of making people blind just to sell more drugs and prescription eye-glasses without addressing the underlying causes. Below, I offer some cost-free hypotheses for exploration by everyone who can help:

Hypothesis I: I have found myself urging family members to provide proper reading lights for students who manage with candles, hurricane lanterns or faint light from ceiling  or wall mounted lamps. Proper lighting may encourage them to read more without hurting their eye sights. Meanwhile, I encourage the students to do their readings by the day time to avoid hurting their eyes with long hours in poor lighting. The Ikeoha Foundation could lead the provision of solar powered generators to provide bright lights, brighter than the street lights powered by solar that Senator Ekweremadu is credited with attracting to parts of his Enugu West constituency. Such lights could be installed in homes and school halls accessible to students for supervised evening studies. Related to this is that too many hours spent watching the small screen Nollywood flicks may be hurting the eyes of our people. Families should restrict this to a few hours every week and read books some more.

Hypothesis II: There are problems with alcoholism at an alarming rate in our society. It is now a tradition to provide a gallon of ogogoro (in addition to many cartons of beer and many gallons of palm wine) for grave-diggers who work from morning to evening without food and only accept food at the end, after washing. And it is said that it is not your grandfather's ogogoro that was cooked from ngwo wine anymore; it is now raw ethanol that is mixed with water and called kinkana wey no dey sour. Some people drink it undiluted for a dare and drop dead or go instantly blind. Obugo village in Enugu West has been forced to ban the giving and accepting of kaikai during events in the village. The Ikeoha Foundation and the Enugu State USA Medical Mission could collaborate to offer workshops on the risks of alcoholism, encourage the maintenance of age restrictions, and provide Alcoholics Anonymous type of peer-counseling. The 'biggest brewery' in West Africa at 9th Mile Corner should be approached to sponsor such a responsible drinking awareness outreach.

Hypothesis III: Beyond alcoholism and reading lights, as the author of ADAM: Africana Drug-Free Alternative Medicine, I stipulate that our people obsess with cleanliness so much that showering with soap is a must multiple times a day. Good hygiene; but there is an old-established 'hygiene hypothesis' that excessive obsession with daily washing with microbial soaps is counter productive because some of the bacteria killed is beneficial for health. I challenge anyone interested to try an experiment with the hygiene hypothesis by washing without soap for a week and washing only with water. You should expect to find clearer eye-sight within 24 hours, clearer skin within two days, no more armpits odor, no more dryness, diaper rash, pimples, jock itch, etc, within days. Soap can be used sparingly once a week just like shampoo, but not daily or multiple times a day, at least for our eyes' sake. Our ancestors did not wash with so much soap and we do not have a habit of falling into the latrine, nor are we ingredients for a soup. Most of us ma uma asa ncha, we wash with soap vainly.

The problem with washing with soap daily is that you get soap into your eyes on a daily basis whether you know it or not, whether it burns or not. The key ingredient in soap is Potasium, K (for eye killer, I suggest), a highly inflamable substance that has no business anywhere near our eyes on a daily basis and sometimes multiple times a day. The foreigners who manufacture and ship most of the soap to us do not wash daily with soap.

Additionally, we do not have enough water to wash off the soap residues. We tend to shower with a small bucket of water because of the scarcity of water supply even in the state capital, Enugu. Such a small amount of water is barely enough to wash our hands before meals, the lack of which among his European captors in the 18th century disgusted Oluada Ekwuoanu (Voiceless Unheard), but definitely inadequate to wash off all the soap we apply first to our head (ika ncha n'isi). 

Hypothesis IV: Diabetes is a co-morbidity, with blindness, when it goes uncontrolled and untreated for a long time. Diet and exercise appear to be as effective as many of the available medications with harmful side-effects. We may need to introduce yoga exercises and marathons in the community and bring in dieticians to advise our people on how to reduce our heavy reliance on carbohydrates. In fact abstinence from food for a 24 hours water-only fast once a week is reported to be effective for many viral infections and autoimmune diseases. 

For an earlier blog post exploring the soapless bath hypothesis and the possible links to the health of Africans home and abroad, with special reference to HIV/AIDS, please follow the link:

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