By Udeme Akpan, Energy Editor
FOR12 years running, Seplat Energy Plc, a leading indigenous Nigerian energy company with a strategic focus on Nigeria, with listing on both the Nigerian Exchange Limited, NGX, and London Stock Exchange, LSE, and its partner, Nigerian Petroleum Development Company, NPDC, have continued to touch lives with their ‘Eye Can See’ free health care initiative. The initiative has since inception benefited numerous Nigerians with 38,555 glasses dispensed, 86,226 patients screened, while it has successfully performed 3,757 surgeries.
With today’s knowledge and technology, up to 80 percent of blindness is preventable and treatable. Cost-effective interventions are available for the major causes of avoidable blindness. However, millions of people in African remain at risk of visual loss due to the lack of eye-care services.
According to the World Health Organisation, WHO, the major eye conditions include cataracts, uncorrected refractive errors, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, corneal opacities, diabetic retinopathy, trachoma and onchocerciasis. As of 2021, the WHO reported that, “globally, at least 2.2 billion people have a near or distance vision impairment. In at least one billion – or almost half – of these cases, vision impairment could have been prevented or has yet to be addressed.”
The global health body also noted that, “This one billion people includes those with moderate or severe distance vision impairment or blindness due to unaddressed refractive error (88.4 million), cataract (94 million), glaucoma (7.7 million), corneal opacities (4.2 million), diabetic retinopathy (3.9 million), and trachoma (2 million), as well as near vision impairment caused by unaddressed presbyopia (826 million).”
The eye is made up of different parts serving different purposes but for the common good of seeing. These parts include the pupil, iris, cornea and retina to name a few. We can see objects around us because light that travels from a light source to an object is reflected into our eyes. As simple as seeing may be for some, it is an arduous task for others.
The International Classification of Diseases 11 (2018) classifies vision impairment into two groups, distant and near presenting vision impairment. Distant vision impairment is classified as: mild if the visual acuity is worse than 6/12 to 6/18, moderate if the visual acuity is worse than 6/18 to 6/60, severe if the visual acuity is worse than 6/60 to 3/60 and blindness if the visual acuity is worse than 3/60. Near vision impairment is so classified if the visual acuity is worse than N6 or M.08 at 40cm.
According to the WHO, “Approximately 26.3 million people in the African Region have a form of visual impairment. Of these, 20.4 million have low vision and 5.9 million are estimated to be blind. It is estimated that 15.3% of the world’s blind population reside in Africa.” Worldometer elaboration of the United Nations data estimates Nigeria’s population in 2007 and 2021 as 146.3 million and 212.7 million respectively.
From 2005 to 2007, the “National Blindness and Visual Impairment Survey” was conducted to measure eyesight in Nigeria. This first survey, meant to calculate vision data of individuals over 40 in the country, estimated that about 0.78 per cent of Nigerians are blind and over 80 percent of this blindness is avoidable.
Prior to that, there was no accurate and comprehensive population-based data available to guide policy-makers and plan eye care services bearing in mind the extent to which the country is diverse economically, geographically, ethnically and culturally. Results of this survey reported relationships between blindness, VI and some socio-demographic variables such as age, gender, social status, geopolitical zone and place of residence. The number of blind people varies across the six geopolitical zones, GPZ, with the North-West harbouring the largest proportion at 29 per cent due to the high prevalence and large population.
Cataract is the most common cause of severe VI and blindness in Nigeria and accounts for 45.3% and 43.0%, respectively. Eye care facilities are limited in rural communities and unfortunately, they are often not fully utilised. This non-utilisation has been linked to lack of awareness among those living in these rural communities and also cultural beliefs that treating some eye conditions can actually lead to blindness.
Nigerians, who live in rural areas, may have to travel long distances to access care. In the absence of accessible orthodox eye care, patients access other sources, for example, patent medicine vendors and traditional healers, which may exacerbate the visual loss through harmful practices or delay appropriate treatment. Thus, the high-valued Eye Can See Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative fis a poignant call answered by Seplat Energy in eye related issues. The eye can see initiative over the years has catered for individuals with health challenges concerning their sights.
Seplat Energy Director, External Affairs and Sustainability, Dr. Chioma Nwachuku, represented by Mr. Emmanuel Otokhine during the 2022 ‘Eye Can See’ programme, opening ceremony held at the palace of the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II, in Benin City, Edo State on Wednesday, May 25, 2022 disclosed that the programme is targeted at men, women and children.
She noted that Seplat Energy intends to provide free optical treatment at all levels to members of the communities, prevent and reduce cases of permanent loss of vision, provide free reading glasses and treat other related eye problems, educate patients on ways to care for the eyes and how to detect Glaucoma, educate patients on lifestyle change to reduce the rates of Hypertension and Diabetes.
The Eye Can See programme will be deployed in Delta and Edo within several communities clustered in 13 centres. The programme which commenced in 2012 has so far screened 86,226 patients, dispensed 38,555 glasses, and successfully performed 3,757 surgeries. Nwachuku said this was a flagship programme of Seplat Energy in its quest to placing smiles on its host communities.
“This is our flagship health CSR programme and it is meant to deliver quality healthcare to people within the areas we operate. Usually, every year, we put this programme in various centres across Edo State and Delta State as well as in Lagos. We are committed to delivering health care to people, making a difference in the lives of people within the areas where we operate and that is why you will see us do a programme like this.
“We also have education improvement programme such as the Seplat Teachers Empowerment Programme (STEP); we had the Safe Motherhood programme, which is geared towards supporting pregnant women and mothers. We also have community development projects where we execute developmental projects in our communities such as construction of roads, construction of hospitals and even funding of those hospitals, and generally ensuring that our communities get the right support.
“We have different empowerment programmes for our host communities and the country at large. Seplat Energy is ever committed to ensuring that we put smile on the faces of the people in Nigeria; and that is why we say Seplat is unique,” she said.
Nwachuku also encouraged participants to inform their relations and loved ones in Seplat Western Asset to access the programme at the centres closest to them.
The Edo State Commissioner of Health, Prof. Akoria Obehi, represented by Dr. Stephenson Ojefo, said the state government aligned with Seplat Energy in providing quality healthcare delivery to its citizens, maintaining that few weeks ago, the state government partnered with the Association of Nigerians Physicians in the Americas, ANPA, in carrying out free medical surgeries on its citizens; of which the Seplat Energy Eye Can See Programme is a consolidation of the agenda.
Prof. Akoria said the state government was ever ready to provide Seplat the enabling environment to thrive in the state just as she said the state will always ask for more from them.
The Assistant Director, Office of the Secretary to the State Government, Delta State, Mr. Jude Mordi, who represented the Secretary to the State Government, while commending Seplat for its impact in the society, said it has stood out among its peers in the past 12 years in rendering free eye surgeries and screenings to its host communities just as he called on other companies to emulate Seplat.
For Mr. John Onyekama, Manager, External Affairs, NPDC, who represented company’s Managing Director, Ali Muhammad Zarah, said the company and its partner (Seplat Energy) have been carrying out its job in the host communities without hindrances and thus giving back to the society is a welcome development.
Expressing her appreciation to organisers of the event after the free eye surgery, Madam Okao Ekogiawere Omorogbe, a beneficiary, said she was happy that she could see very well with her eyes again. The aged woman thanked Seplat/NPDC for the initiative, and the Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, for making his palace available and the state government for providing the enabling environment for the exercise to take place.
Similarly, another beneficiary, Prince Victor Ehue, said if he had gone to the hospital to carry out the eye surgery, he would have spent hundreds of thousands of naira for the operation, adding that Seplat Energy/NPDC has done it for him for free. Seplat Energy Eye Can See is indeed one that is urgently needed and a call for emulation by other corporate entities who have the health interest of the communities where they operate at heart.