Home Governance 480,000 Turn Blind … Liberia’s Health Officials Disclose

480,000 Turn Blind … Liberia’s Health Officials Disclose

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MONROVIA: Health authorities in Liberia have acknowledged that an estimated 480,000 persons are currently suffering from vision loss.

Latest data contained in the National Eye Health Policy Liberia 2022-2023 shows that blindness is leading among old folks in the country.

According to health dossiers (records) in 2020, there were an estimated 480, 000 people with vision loss in Liberia.
The Liberian government, on Wednesday, September 20, 2023, launched its First National Eye Health Policy in eight years, “to tackle avoidable blindness and vision impairment.”

The policy comes as eye health services and health systems in Liberia have been impacted by years of civil war, political turmoil, and a devastating Ebola outbreak.
The report indicates that the country has had no formal government-level direction for eye health since 2015, when the last Eye Health Policy expired.

The 2012 “Rapid Assessment of Avoidable Blindness (RAAB),” found the prevalence of blindness was associated with increasing age, ranging from 0.7% in those, aged 50-54 years, to 11.7% in those aged, 80 years and above.
Cataracts accounted for 60.4% of blindness the document revealed.
Posterior segment pathologies accounted for 27.8% of blindness and over half (16%) of the posterior segment blindness was due to glaucoma, according to Dr. Joseph Kerkula, Director of National Eye Health at the Ministry of Health, giving the summary of the First National Eye Health Policy launch.
The launch of the new policy, developed with support from the international development organization, Sightsavers, and Irish Aid, is an important moment for the nation’s healthcare, as it sets out official guidance and commitments required to rebuild and improve eye health services, Dr. Kerkula indicated.

“I strongly believe that this document will be used as a working tool for the improvement of health services across the country. And it should not be like other materials that are kept in shield at the Ministry without any implementation”, Dr. Francis Nah Kateh, Deputy Minister of Health, who doubled as Liberia’s Chief Medical Officer, told the gathering.

Dr. Kateh said while it is true there are challenges in the Country’s health sector, tremendous efforts are being made to address the situation.

“We are making progress as a nation and people to meet the goals of the World Health Organization (WHO) to reach Universal Health Coverage. So, with this policy document being launched today, I am sure we are reaching somewhere. Most importantly, health is something I take seriously because I know it is one of the sensitive and important parts of human,” Dr. Frank Kateh remarked.

For his part, Balla Musa Joof, Country Director of Sightsavers, congratulated the Liberian government on achieving “this significant step towards reducing the burden of vision impairment in Liberia.”
“We are particularly pleased to see the importance placed on collaboration with schools, because when we tackle avoidable vision impairment from an early age, children can learn and adults can earn. Good eye health creates a ripple effect on the lives of individuals, families, and communities, which will ultimately help the nation to thrive and reduce poverty and inequality,” the Country Director stressed.
According to Joof, the new policy will support the government to achieve universal health coverage, thus ensuring that everyone has access to eye health services without financial hardship.
He stressed that the policy will also look at priority areas that include improving access to eye health services, particularly for people with disabilities, women, and remote communities, training eye-health professionals and improving their geographical spread.

Other thematic areas include ensuring sufficient, well-equipped eye health facilities, strong health management information systems.

Others are expanding regional and community eye-health services and outreach and Integrating eye-health into wider health and education systems.
Sightsavers has supported eye-health work in Liberia for over 20 years as well as assisting with the new eye health policy.
It is also involved in projects that will help make eye health services more inclusive, particularly for women and people with disabilities, and training teachers to do basic vision screenings and provide deworming medication.
The policy was launched at a Ministry of Health event held at Golden Gate Hotel in Paynesville, just few weeks ahead of World Sight Day (12 October, 2023).
Organizers pointed out that the announcement shows positive action, in line with Sightsavers’ World Sight Day’s call for global leaders to recognize the importance of inclusive eye health.
Balla adds: “Progress has been made but work still needs to be done to ensure eye health is fully represented in health planning, resourcing, and funding. We encourage the government and other stakeholders to collaborate and focus on the parameters required to deliver universal health coverage. We need to travel together on the journey and create strong coordination at community, regional and national levels to ensure we leave nobody behind when it comes to eye health.”
Healthcare service in Liberia is offered in the 15 administrative counties which are further divided into 136 health districts.
Public healthcare is provided through a three-tier system; Primary; Secondary; and Tertiary care.

According to the Demographic and Health Survey (2019-2020), life expectancy at birth for women in Liberia is about 65.5 years, while life expectancy at birth for men is about 62.7 years. The under-5 mortality rate is 93 deaths per 1,000 live births in the 5 years preceding the 2019/20 DHS, while child mortality is 33 deaths per 1,000 live births and infant mortality is 63 deaths per 1,000 live births.
Fifty-one percent of children age 12-23 months received all basic vaccinations. The maternal mortality ratio (MMR) per 100,000 live births is 742.

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