Alarmed, Liberia wages war against pervasive blindness

Women relax together after eye surgery. Photo : TLF

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (ADV) – Blindness in Liberia is increasing by the thousands ever year, Dr. Edward B. Gizzie, head of the Liberia Eye Center at the John F. Kennedy (JFK) Medical Center in Monrovia has said.

Local media reports on Thursday quoted Dr. Gizzie as saying that about 35,000 people were blind in the country of about 4.8 million inhabitants.

In a bid to halt the worrisome trend, the JFK Eye Center, in partnership with the government of India, is contemplating on establishing a Cornea Transplant Center in Liberia to help visually impaired persons to regain sight.

The major cause of blindness, according to Dr. Gizzie, is cataract, which he says is not only unique to Liberia but to the whole world.

Research has shown that the prevalence of blindness in Liberia is estimated at 1 percent, with an estimated total of 35,000 blind people.

Cataract is an eye disease that affects the cornea (dark portion of the eye), which leads to total blindness when not removed or treated.

Dr. Gizzie made the revelation during the visit to Liberia this week of Dr.Merle Fernandes of the LV Prasad Eye Institute in India.

Dr. Fernandes told Liberia’s leading Daily Observer newspaper that while research is ongoing to determine whether or not it is possible to use synthetic materials to treat cornea blindness, the option at hand was to remove the cornea of a person who has just died, to replace the damaged cornea of the living to regain sight.

“This means that in order to get the cornea of the dead, the person, prior to his/her death, must have conceded that it must be done or family members of the deceased must agree to allow the cornea of the deceased family member to be extracted,”Dr. Fernandes said.

She added: “It also takes a consensus at the national level for the government to make a policy that allows such medical practice to take place in the country”.

Dr. Fernandes, who is in Liberia for this purpose, said due to the lack of an eye bank in the country, she cannot perform as many surgical transplants as expected of her.

Moreover, she said the cornea tissue she uses to treat some patients in the country was brought from an international eye bank, but she expects to perform eye surgery for not less than 12 patients with cornea blindness.

She leaves Liberia on Saturday, October 13.

© Bur-csa – N.A / From our regional correspondent Tamba Jean-Matthew III – African Daily Voice (ADV)