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Childhood blindness: Only 35 Paediatric Ophthalmologists in Nigeria

A Professor of Ophthalmologist at the University of Ilorin, Kwara State, Dupe Ademola-Popoola, has lamented the dearth of paediatric ophthalmologists in the country, noting that only 35 are available to cater for millions of children with eye problems.

She raised the alarm while presenting a paper titled, ‘Illusion to Vision: A Symphony of Trial and Triumph of Child Eye Health’ at the 235th Inaugural Lecture of the university.

She said that paediatric care requires specific training, knowledge, skills and equipment, but which are expensive.

The expert describes childhood blindness as a group of diseases and conditions occurring in children or adolescents up till the age of 17.

The professor warned that if the diseases are left untreated, they might result in blindness or visual impairment, which may likely be untreatable later in life.

She said, “Worldwide, every second, a child goes blind somewhere. About 1.5 million children are blind and 19 million, visually impaired.

“Nigeria is 7th in the world and has a conservative estimate of 220.9 million population, with 44 per cent being children under 15 years (97.2 million).”

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The Ophthalmologist said the Nigerian national survey of blindness revealed that 0.6 per cent of blindness exists among children aged 10 to 15 years.

She underscored the importance of early detection and treatment of childhood eye diseases, stressing that it is very important in preventing and reversing vision loss and eye morbidities.

The professor further said that the causes of childhood visual impairment and blindness are different from those of adults.

“Children’s eyes are not like that of adults. When diseased, they require different strategies, screening at the early stage of life is the most cost-effective way to detect causes that may be irreversible.

“Most children with eye problems in our environment are brought very late for treatment when the expected outcome is poor. When they come, they cannot pay,” she said.

Ademola-Popoola, therefore, called for legislative and implementation initiatives for early childhood detection and intervention for potentially blinding conditions.

The expert also canvassed for the establishment of an institute of child eye care in Kwara State, and health insurance coverage for children’s eye care.