The Council for Education and Development (Conseil pour l’Education et le Development (COPED)) in partnership with the Tropical Neglected Diseases and Prevention of Blindness health department has organized a Symposium to create awareness of Glaucoma to the top health ministry officials, and representative of glaucoma patients and journalists (Public TV and Radio, private radio). The symposium was hosted at the National Institute of Public Health (INSP) under the theme of: “The World is Bright, Save your Sight”. It was organized after four days of intensive workshop that aimed at elaborating a Strategic national plan to fight blindness.
According to Dr Adrien BIRONKWANINGUVU, an Ophthalmologist working in a tertiary referral regional Hospital and Chief Ophthalmology Officer, glaucoma remains unknown in Africa in general and in Burundi in particular. Glaucoma is a second leading cause of avoidable blindness. It is estimated that 4% of African population aged over forty years have glaucoma. Most glaucoma patients consult an eye doctor when it is at advanced stage because the central vision is preserved until the end stage. It is known as a “Silent thief of sight”.
People need to regularly consult a qualified eye health professional to check intra-ocular pressure, optic nerve status and the visual field test if the two have shown sign of glaucoma. Intra ocular pressure is the only treatable risk factor for glaucoma and tonometer should available and used to measure IOP for all patients attending an eye care setting.
A survey conducted in February 2021 has shown that only 67% eye care settings in Burundi are equipped in tonometer and only 13 % measure intra ocular pressure for each patient attending their clinic. There is a need for equipment supplies and maintenance and policy to ensure all eye care settings are equipped in basic equipment such a tonometer and that all eye care professional are trained to measure intra-ocular pressure.
This conference came at a moment where the Health Ministry and fight against AIDS in partnership with eye health professional and NGO including COPED is setting up a National Strategic Plan to Prevent Blindness. Glaucoma should be included as priority along with cataract, refractive errors problem and diabetic retinopathy in this strategic plan.
The most important in this meeting was the tearful story from the representative of glaucoma patients. He started the story by thanking people who have funded and organized this awareness event.
He said: “My name is Salvator. I am 60 years old. I am Senior adviser to the Ministry of Education and Scientific Research. I have been seeing an eye health professional for more than 20 years. I thought glasses were able to treat my eye condition. However, in 2012 my situation changed, and I went to see an eye professional to change my correction. I have been prescribed multifocal spectacles with some eye drops (timolol). The technician who saw me told that my condition is worst and that I was going to have a lifetime treatment. I was very confused because I could not understand what was going wrong. I did not believe in what she said to me because no one has told me about the disease before. I went to see an eye doctor in another clinic who confirmed that I have some problem in my eye, and it is dangerous but did not tell me nor explain to me what the diagnosis was. It was in 2018 (17 years after I went to see an eye doctor) that I was told that my eye problem is named glaucoma and that it is very advanced. The doctor asked me to perform a visual field test and the results confirmed that I have an advanced glaucoma and that I need operation for both eyes urgently. I was prescribed twinzol in the meantime but when I went to see my insurance officer, I was not covered and was told that the treatment has a replacement. Instead of using twinzol, I used timolol and my doctor was disappointed and me too of how treatment was substituted without his approval. His advice was to pay from my pocket, but this was exceedingly difficult for me. I was very anxious and frustrated, and my decision was to use the cheapest treatment until I get money to buy twinzol. I was very unfortunate because the doctor who was treating me was not available, and I went to see another doctor who told me the only solution to save my sight was to have operation in both eyes starting from the worst. With the contribution of my peers, I underwent right eye surgery on 6th of February and will have my eye operation on 28 of March. Please spread this message: “To patients: Get an eye test regularly if you are over 40 years old; To eye professional: Test every patient as he/she has glaucoma.”
From what presented during this awareness event, the Council for Education and Development a long-term partner of the Health Ministry will support every project that enhance the wellbeing of Burundian. COPED is engaged to support the creation of glaucoma association in Burundi that will aim at arising awareness of glaucoma, empower and promote solidarity between patients. As partner of Health ministry, COPED will contribute significantly to putting in place a pyramidal eye health care system and will ensure that basic equipment such as tonometer and visual field are supplied, available and affordable to all Burundian because no sight, no life (Pas de vie sans Vue).
Dr. Désiré Niyonkuru, MD
Head of Health Department, COPED