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Last Updated: Friday, 3 October, 2003, 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK
Is Africa taking good care of its eyes?
Millions of people across Africa are blind when they need not be.
Ambassadors for their country

Hundreds of thousands of people have extremely bad eyesight.

In Nigeria over 1 million people are blind whilst over 3 million are visually impaired.

Imagine what that does to your workforce and society? Those people are prevented - either by their disability or by society's inability to see them as useful - in farming or working or caring for their families.

Furthermore, a blind person is often accompanied by a sighted guide, often a child who should be in school.

According to agencies involved in eye care, which includes the World Health Organisation, 80% of blindness is preventable or curable.

But governments may not be giving enough attention to the causes of blindness, because they are not "killer" diseases.

Causes of Blindness
Cataracts
River Blindness
Trachoma
Vitamin A deficiency
Glaucoma

Many countries have signed up to national eye-care plans, but few have put them into practice.

In Africa, if you go blind, you stay blind...

...except perhaps in The Gambia.

The Gambia has a small population (1.4 million) and instituted a nationwide eye-care plan in 1986. Within 10 years the country had halved the percentages of blind or visually impaired people, even against soaring population figures.

The BBC's Africa Live! programme asks are we taking enough care of our eyes? If not, why not?

In Ghana a farmer went blind and stopped farming. One day, with assistance, he learnt to farm again. Some years later he won Farmer of the Year for his region.

Are we making enough use of our visually-impaired or blind workforce?

Are you - or a relative - blind? What has been your experience?

Join the BBC's Africa Live programme Wednesday 8th October at 1630 and 1830 GMT.

Use the form to send us your comments, some of which will be published below.

If you would like to take part in the discussion, e-mail us with your telephone number.


We must be proud of our blind compatriots. The sighted have brought shame and disgrace on this country for long with no sign of abating. Just look at what the kids from the School for the Blind did recently, touring Britain with their angelic sounds and making us Sierra Leoneans proud. They were and are our ambassadors, they never ran away like our footballers did but came home heads high. Bravo to you all. Indeed your motto is great "we cannot see,but we can conquer".
Vandy S. Kamara, Sierra Leone

I serve as a volunteer with an organisation focused on the disability sector in Nigeria. Both the government and international development agencies pay lip service to disability, but lack the will or comitment to fund the search for lasting solutions. We need equal oppurtunities and access for persons with disability. In Enugu, Nigerian deaf children haven't been able to go to school for a year. The only school is government run, with the majority of teachers unable to use sign language. The development and donor agencies are only interested in HIV/AIDS campaigns. They ignore p.w.d.s because there is less publicity.
Chibuzo Ejiogu

Africa is taking care of the blind. In Sierra Leone the Sight Savers is doing a marvellous job in help people regain their sight. The Government is providing lots of facilities and education for blind people, thereby giving them hope of being self reliant.
Michael Katta, Sierra Leone

As long as there is no legislation in place to take care of the blind and all those who are physicaly handicapped, they will remain 'the disadvantaged ' in the society. It would be better if there was a law they could lean on.
Justus Korir, Kenya

In Sierra Leone, people often would often ignore a blind person and talk to their guide instead, asking their details indirectly. A blind person is considered an object to be carried up and down by a guide. Sierra Leoneans need to be educated on the capabilities of the blind especially those lecturers at the university who are of the view that law is not a career for the blind.
Thomas Alieu, Sierra Leone

Governments need to generally start paying more attention to all people with disabilities. There is still an attitude in Africa suggesting resources need not be channelled into improving the situation of people with disabilities. Having worked with people who are visually impared I believe there is loads of room for improvement.
Tsitsi Choruma, Zimbabwe

In Cameroon, the blind are usually considered a burden. Little is done to assimilate them into society. Although there are a few rehabilitation centres, the society at large do not pay much attension to their plight. Many are abandoned to the good nature and benevolence of a few humanitarians.
Aloysius Tindong, Cameroon

While it is true that African governments do not seem to have a place for those who are blind, one or two people have demonstrated that it is possible to conquer blindness. In Kenya, we have examples of the former Member of Parliment Josephine Sinyo, a distinguished lawyer, and the late Ooki Ombaka, an outstanding lawyer too, who lost his sight in adult life yet went on to make immeasurable contributions to his country.
Mike O'maera, Tanzania

Education opportunities for the visually impaired in my country Ghana are woefully inadequate in the cities and non existent in the rural areas. All of the state universities lack the space and special facilities for the blind. What options are open to an intelligent blind person? With the denial of formal education, the only road open to blind people is soliciting alms in the street.
Freeman Tettey, Ghana

I was diagnosed with retina detachment in both eyes in 2000. Since then things had never been the same. Most Nigerians - educated and illiterate - see blindness as a taboo or a punishment from God, so many of them tactfully avoid any one with such an affliction, even close friends and relatives. The average blind person is seen as a burden to productive members of society. People do not know that with a little training a blind person can also contribute to development of their society.
Peter Omekeh, Lagos,Nigeria

We may not always know the reasons why we are afflicted with certain disabilities but we can be certain that they are often blessings in disguise! Being blind did not stop John Milton from writing "Paradise Lost". Fanny Crosby, though blind wrote more than 6,000 hymns. Helen Keller was deaf, dumb and blind, but she learned not only to write, but to talk! Blindness can either make you better or bitter.
Professor Georges Didier, Sweden

Blindness is big health care problem in African. The solution is extremely difficult and eradication impossible but the greatest challenge is that blindness, like its despised counterparts - mental illness, hearing and speech impediments are low priorities for many African health care and social welfare institutions.
Igonikon Jack, USA

The health care delivery system has all but collapse in Nigeria. Those suffering from any kind of eye ailment usually relies on foreign volunteer doctors to help them. Africa does not take care of its blind and I believe my country Nigeria is the worst.
Bashir Musa, Nigeria

I work for the African Gospel Acappella, a group of six blind singers from Liberia. It is not easy to be blind in Africa, people think just because you cannot see you are stupid. There need to be better opportunities for the disabled in Africa.
Karalie Pehlke, Liberia

A good way to begin solving a problem is by knowing its causes.Generally the causes of blindness in Africa have been pointed out. But the biggest question is, are the governments willing to go beyond this point?
Dallon Quewea, Liberia/USA

Africa is poor in terms of money and doctors and therefore cannot afford the eye services that are available in developing countries. In addition, eye diseases are rarely life-threatening and therefore are often not a priority.
Wellam, Malawi

My personal comment is that, Africans should teach poor families how to take care of their eyes. In my own country Sudan, the 20 year civil war has compounded eye problems because of the unreliable health care system.
Manyanga, Sudan

Usually people who are blind or handicapped tend to give up on themselves resulting in societies branding them useless too. Families and friends should motivate the impaired to believe in themselves and take advantage of other senses which invariably are much sharper. History is witness to great feats by blind people.
Ali Asghar Shabbir, Pakistan

I worked as an eye surgeon in East Africa from 1985 to 2000. Half of Africa's blindness is due to cataract. Thanks to the introduction of low cost intraocular lens implants we now have an excellent treatment that can restore sight to millions of people. The main difficulty is that so many people accept blindness as a normal part of aging. We need to work much harder to convince everyone that blindness is curable, and it is not "normal". The BBC has already played a role in this, by publicising our eye camps in Somalia on the BBC Somali service. Perhaps the media can do even more?
David Yorston, Western Eye Hospital, London

The needs of the blind are not considered in our national development agenda. Many facilities including banking halls, streets, schools and public offices have been designed without any thought about the blind user. A lot of blind people have been denied formal education because we have very few educational institutions that cater for the visually-impaired. We have only one school for the blind for 3 regions in the whole of Northern Ghana with a population of about 5 million people. And this institution is only a basic school.
Ali Anankpieng, Ghana

Cameroon does not take good care of the blind. There are about four of them in BBHS in Buea where I teach. I enjoy them, but not to the fullest as I can neither read nor write braille, and they're competing with other able bodied students.
CHO Fred,Buea-Cameroon

In our part of the world, we see the blind as inferior people. When you come to my country Ghana, you will see them begging by the side of the road, since we have made them beggers, our leaders have turned deaf ears to their situation. Is this not infronging on their human rights? Are the blind not part of the country's people? When they want to come to power they beg for these people to vote for them, but where are the responsibilities of the leaders to these people?
George Apenteng, Accra, Ghana

Economic development requires a healthy, educated workforce. Note that "healthy" comes before educated. Proper health care is also a fundamental human right. Until health problems such as blindness, malaria, and HIV/AIDS are attacked on a thorough, comprehensive basis, the people of Africa will never have a decent chance at improving their posterity. Whether by their own best efforts or anybody else's. Health care must become development goal number one.
Steve Politowicz, USA

In Africa where many traditional beliefs about causes of disabilities such as blindness exist, where the health care system has almost collapsed, and the cost of treatment and medication is very high, the fate of the blind is grim. Major causes of blindness such as trachoma and riverblindness can be prevented and treated, but lack of awareness, early detection,and good sanitation is hampering any progress.Many blind children have no access to school, to training and to employment. The society thinks they are good for nothing or they simply dont exist! Prevention is better than cure, and that should be the song of the government!
Harrahs Malinda, Kenya




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