Fri | Apr 19, 2019

Tufton sets sights on national eye health plan to improve treatment access

Published:Saturday | April 6, 2019 | 12:23 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer

With more than 15,000 legally blind people in Jamaica and more than half that number being older than 50 years old, Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said the country needs a national eye health plan.

Addressing the official launch of the Chinese Bright Journey Eye Care Mission 2019 and handover of equipment ceremony at the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) yesterday, Tufton said such a plan would aim to increase access to quality, equitable eye-care services in Jamaica.

“My understanding, based on some checks, is that we have some 4,000 Jamaicans waiting on cataract surgeries. So, in that context, we welcome the Bright Journey Mission,” the minister said.

He praised the continued assistance from the Chinese government and the expertise of the team of five ophthalmologists, three nurses, two engineers, and one technician, who arrived in the island recently to perform more than 500 cataract surgeries on Jamaicans. This is the Chinese mission’s second visit, having performed more than 200 free cataract surgeries in Jamaica in May 2015.

GROWING DEMAND FOR EYE-CARE SERVICE

The team also donated medical equipment and supplies valued at US$400,000 to the KPH yesterday.

According to Tufton, Jamaica’s ageing population raises concerns about the capacity of the healthcare system to satisfy growing demand for eye-care services.

“The ageing process is associated with increased incidence of medical conditions that include eye diseases and conditions such as diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, and other age-related degenerative eye conditions, as well as glaucoma,” said Tufton.

He mentioned that the prevalence of diabetes mellitus in the population over 20 years old in Jamaica is estimated to be about 11.5 per cent, meaning that approximately 230,000 people are living with the disease.

“The result is that all these people need retinal screening in order to identify and treat those that are at risk of visual loss,” noted Tufton.

The main cause of blindness in the Caribbean region is cataract, followed by uncorrected refractive error and glaucoma.

Tian Qi, the People’s Republic of China’s ambassador to Jamaica, said that he is fully confident that the mission will help push forward the cooperation in health between the two countries.

“This mission of Bright Journey is charity and south-south cooperation in nature, as we all know that as the largest developing country, China has been safeguarding the common interest of all the developing countries,” said Tian.

He noted that the mission would not only brighten the sights of patients in Jamaica, but would also brighten the future of friendship and cooperation between the countries.

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com