ARIVER blindness (onchocerciasis) is finding its way back to the northern parts of the country, the Minister of Health, Dr Benjamin Kunbuor, has revealed.
The minister, therefore, asked optometrists in the country to play a key role in controlling the disease.
“The ministry is looking at how the impact of optometry, as a primary health care profession, can be felt at the district level.”
Dr Kunbuor stated this at the second oath-swearing and induction ceremony of 36 newly qualified doctors of optometry at the Great Hall of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi last Saturday.
Thirty-one of the new doctors were trained at the KNUST while five were trained at the University of Cape Coast (UCC).
River blindness is a parasitic disease caused by a large tissue roundworm that spreads from person to person through the bites of black flies.
There are drugs against onchocerciacis; however, there is no perfect cure yet.
The minister stressed the need for the establishment of a qualified body to regulate the optometry profession in the country.
He said the absence of a regulatory body had resulted in unethical practices within the profession, while unqualified persons had also infiltrated the system.
He said it was to address those and other challenges that the government had initiated action for the passage of the Health Professions Regulatory Bill.
According to the minister, the bill would soon go to the Cabinet for onward placement before Parliament, giving an assurance that, “We will make sure the Bill is put into operation in the shortest possible time.”
With the passing out of the new doctors to augment the existing optometry strength, the minister said, “The nation looks forward to a greater opportunity for every Ghanaian to have a comprehensive eye-care services, eradication of preventable blindness, as well as other provisions of the Vision 2020”.
The Vice Chancellor of KNUST, Prof. Kwasi Kwafo Adarkwa, said the need for adequate manpower in the eye-care sub-sector could not be overlooked.
“Our countrymen especially those in the deprived areas continue to suffer from several eye-care problems, most of which are preventable, as a result of the shortage of optometrists and other eye-care professionals.
“As a result several people have had to resort to unorthodox means and methods of treating eye problems, the results of which practice have not been desirable,” he said.
Since the establishment of the Department of Optometry and Visual Science in 1991, it has trained 60 optometrists with postgraduate degrees and 79 graduates with Doctor of Optometry degrees.
The Vice Chancellor stated that the department also undertook a number of community projects, one of which was the “Ashanti Vision Project” at Ayeduase, which was a collaborative effort between the university and other bodies.
The Head of the Department of Optometry and Visual Sciences, KNUST, Dr (Mrs) Angela Ofeibea Amedo, said about one per cent of the Ghanaian population was blind while another 2.3 per cent suffered from low vision from all causes of blindness including cataract, glaucoma and uncorrected refractive efforts.
Three prizes were awarded to deserving graduates. They include the Canada Optical laboratory Prizes for Best Graduating Doctor of Optometry, which went to Dr Afua Asantewaa from the KNUST and Dr Andrew Owusu-Ansah from the UCC.
The Ghana Optometric Association Prize for the best student in the professional qualifying examinations went to Dr A. Morny Enyam Komla.