By Chioma Obinna
On this year’s World Sight Day with the theme: “Lover Your Eyes Save your sight”, Nigerian Optometrists have urged the federal government to waive import duties on all ophthalmic equipment and supplies as part of strategies to reduce the cost of eye treatment and make services available for all Nigerians.
Making this call at a press briefing to mark this year’s World Sight Day in Lagos, the Optometrists under the auspices of the Nigerian Optometric Association, NOA, lamented that the weak Naira against the Dollar has skyrocketed the cost of eye care equipment.
“They posited that to set up an eye clinic, an individual needs about N15 million, adding that this could further increase with the continuous devaluation of the Naira.
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“According to the President of the association, Dr. Obinna Awiaka, despite the high freight rate into the country, the Customs import duty on the eye care equipment is as high as 28-30 per cent.
“Awiaka who noted that the situation in the country was different from other African countries said: “Other African countries pay less than six per cent import duty, while in South Africa there is a total waiver for all medical equipment.
“The eye clinic is a specialist area that requires all the equipment to be able to diagnose.
“It requires a huge amount of investment. If the federal government steps into the eye care equipment and the general medical equipment and put in import waivers, the cost will crash and it will come in at a cheaper rate for our members to be able to purchase it and put it into practice.
If priority attention is not given to the over 80 per cent of the country’s population experiencing avoidable blindness, the numbers will increase by 40 per cent over the next decade.“
He said African developing countries, including Nigeria, are already losing about $3.2 billion every year due to blindness.
“With the over 200 million Nigerians, the amount of healthcare services already in place is not enough to serve the numbers.
“The eye care clinics and services have been established with people’s private funds with no help from the government and the banks.”
Continuing, he disclosed that in Nigeria, s the National Blindness and Visual Impairment survey has shown that uncorrected refractive errors is a major cause of visual impairment with about 77.9 per cent of mild visual impairment being caused by it. It is estimated that over 1.130,000 individuals aged 40 years are blind and over 80 per cent of blindness are due to avoidable causes.
Corroborating his views, the Vice President, NOA, Dr Ogechi Nwokedi who decried non-availability of eye care services at the rural communities urged Nigerians to always go for eye checks to prevent avoidable blindness.
“Nwokedi also called for a compulsory pre-drivers license eye examination programme as well as a compulsory pre-employment eye examination.
On her part, the Assistant National Secretary, NOA, Dr Priscilla Imade, called for improved funding and policies for the eye sector by the government as well as the creation of more job opportunities for optometrists at all levels to cater for the needs of the teeming population who need eye care services.
Imade emphasised the need for the establishment of a pre-school eye health initiative, clinics at all Primary Health Centres across Nigeria to be manned by optometrists.
Imade called for the inclusion of all stakeholders including the Nigerian Optometric Association into the recently constituted health sector reform committee, adding that “if this is not done, the implications of visual impairment would place an enormous economic, social and psychological burden on suffers, families, communities and the nation at large.