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Bringing hope in sight amid Covid-19

Our eyes are an ocean in which our dreams are reflected.

Nine moons ago, the world experienced the beginning of one of the most virulent viruses sail across the world; the corona virus that is now commonly referred to as Covid-19.

Words like ‘we are facing unprecedented times’ became common speak as the world sought to understand better the nature of a virus that indiscriminately spread globally. In his small office in Wuhan China, a young doctor began describing signs of the new disease from infections he had observed in some of his patients. This was not well received.  He was admonished for causing superfluous alarm.

Did you know that the first doctor to report  about the early cases of Covid-19  was an ophthalmologist, an eye health specialist? Dr Li Wenliang, 34 years, was an ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital and in December last year, he alerted about the viral disease in China in December 2019.

Today we mark World Sight Day by appreciating the work of ophthalmologist, Dr Li Wenliang.

Dr Li Wenliang, an opthamologist and the Covid-19 whistleblower

Li Wenliang was born in Beizhen, China, on 12 October 1986 and studied clinical medicine at Wuhan University and before taking a job as an ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital in 2014 he worked in Xiamen in southeast China.  Dr Li had examined a patient with symptoms similar to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) – a rare and sometimes fatal respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus.

Sadly, Dr Li died in February 2020 from Covid 19 complications but he become the face of frontline health workers whose lives have been claimed in the battlefield fighting Covid-19.

The International Journal of Infectious Diseases paid a special tribute to Dr Li in their March, 2020 edition. “This case is a stark reminder of the risks of emerging disease outbreaks for healthcare workers (HCWs). Dr Li Wenliang’s name is added to the long list of HCW that were at the forefront of outbreaks of SARS, Ebola, MERS and now SARS-CoV-2,”

And as Kenya joins the world on 8 October to Mark World Sight Day, this year’s theme, ‘hope in sight,’ focuses on the importance on the continuity of eye care to protect vision.

How does Covid-19 affect eyesight?

Recent reports have suggested that COVID-19 may cause conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is an infection or swelling in the outer membrane of the eyeball.

For Covid 19, have been found in tears, which has caused some concern amongst eye health professionals. In March this year, The Royal College of Ophthalmologists and College of Optometrists noted that conjunctivitis seemed to be a late feature in Covid-19 patients.

“It is unlikely that a person would present with this eye infection without other Covid-19 symptoms of fever and/or continuous cough and/or loss of, or change in taste or smell (anosmia).

Closer home, Dr Gichangi notes that eye health specialists in Kenya have also taken precautions when observing patients to reduce the chances of possible infection of Covid-19. “We have recommended that for all patients, infection prevention and control measures should be employed. This includes employing hand hygiene measures and reducing the time spent doing close examinations. If need be, we are observing the eyes while still wearing masks,” Dr Gichangi noted.

What are the leading causes of blindness in Kenya today?

Dr Michael Gichangi from the Health Ophthalmic Services Unit at the Ministry of Health reiterates the importance of ensuring that there is a continuum of care for eye health services during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“There are about about 250,000 blind Kenyans and says cataracts, childhood eye diseases, glaucoma, trachoma and uncorrected vision problems are the leading causes of blindness, “Dr Gichangi says. Refractive errors can cause disabling visual impairments, Dr Gichangi added.

Dr Michael Gichangi, Ministry of Health

Did you know that poorly managed diabetes can lead to blindness?

Dr Gichangi notes that the commonest cause of loss of vision in patients with diabetes includes cataract, glaucoma and a condition known as diabetic retinopathy. This form of blindness occurs when the blood vessels of the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye are damaged.

“People with diabetes (on being diagnosed) should have an eye examination by a qualified eye health worker at least once a year. This ensures diabetic eye disease is picked in the early stages before it causes loss of vision. During this examination the front and the back of the eye should be examined.,” Dr Gichangi said.

                                                                    Protect your eyes through respecting your eye appointment

We encounter challenge in getting the patients in time to prevent blindness because the diabetic eye diseases and many blinding diseases are painless. Even when there is vision loss, it is progressive, slowly, and so the patients tend to delay in seeking treatment, Dr Gichangi added.

Here are a few tips to take care of your eyes

  • Keep and attend your eye appointments in the knowledge that the clinic has taken all necessary health and safety measures to provide a safe environment for examination or treatment. The ongoing review of your eye health and treatment plan is vital to protect your vision.
  • If you are over 50 or have a family history of eye disease, regular eye checks are very important.  Early detection and treatment will help prevent long-term loss of visual acuity.
  • Lifestyle can have a big impact on your eye health.  Eating a diet rich in antioxidant foods can help protect your eyes as you age, as can taking regular exercise to control your blood pressure, and not smoking.


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