Addressing eye screening gaps

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    In celebration of World Sight Day, Novartis Healthcare Philippines and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) launched the multi-stakeholder “Collaboration to Preserve Sight” to address eye screening gaps in the country.

    Jugo Tsumura, Novartis president and managing director, said the company is collaborating with the IAPB and other partners to provide eye screening and education in eye care and raise awareness on the massive unmet needs in eye health.

    Amanda Davis, IAPB Western Pacific chairperson, thanked the company and its partners in helping address blindness and vision impairment in the country.

    Davis said the recent World Health Assembly resolution for eye health marked the next major milestone for global eye health. There is “Hope in Sight” with political commitment to take action to make eye care an integral part of Universal Health Coverage and to implement “integrated people-centered eye care,” he added.

    Dr. Beverly Lorraine Ho, director at the Health Promotion Bureau of the Department of Health (DOH), lauded the multi-stakeholder partnership to address eye screening gaps in the country and realize the Philippines’ commitment to the Global Elimination of Avoidable Blindness: Vision 2020-The Right to Sight.

    Ho said DOH looks forward to working closely with partners to make vision screening an integral part of Healthy Homes, Schools and Workplaces toward Healthy Pilipinas 2040, and ensure the best possible vision for all people and thereby improve the quality of life.

    Through the Collaboration to Preserve Sight, Dr. Leo Cubillan, director at the Philippine Eye Research Institute, said the goal is to sustain support for the National Vision Screening Program signed into law by President Duterte last year.

    Mardi Mapa-Suplido, country manager at The Fred Hollows Foundation, said the organization’s program will implement a home vision screening campaign encouraging families during the quarantine to detect simple eye problems at home, then refer them to provincial eye centers for further diagnosis and treatment in Tarlac, Quezon, Oriental Mindoro, Antique, Negros Oriental and Surigao del Norte.

    A major cause of blindness among working adults is diabetic retinopathy, which is a complication of diabetes, noted Dr. Marie Joan Loy, president of the Vitreo-Retina Society of the Philippines.

    The Mulat Mata Diabetic Retinopathy project aims to set up a comprehensive diabetic retinopathy program consisting of awareness campaigns and education, diabetic retinopathy screening and data gathering, Loy said.

    “We will pilot the program at the community level particularly in the province of Bulacan, which we hope to replicate in the other provinces, and eventually at the national level,” she added.

    Dr. Noel Chua, chairman of the National Committee for Sight Preservation, a national coalition of organizations, said the group is privileged to support the Collaboration to Preserve Sight through the development and rollout of a National Eye Health Communications Strategy Plan, the replication of the home vision screening program in 10 more provinces, and the pilot of an online vision screening program for kindergarten students.

    As employees and students use computers more nowadays with quarantines in place, Dr. Ma. Margarita Lat-Luna, president of the Philippine Academy of Ophthalmology, advised maintaining a proper distance of at least 20 inches away from the computer monitor.

    Position the monitor so that the top line of the screen is at or below eye level, and is perpendicular to the window, Luna said, adding these are just some of the steps to promote eye health.

    According to IAPB, 253 million people in the world are visually impaired – 36 million are blind while 217 million have moderate/severe visual impairment. More than a billion people cannot see well simply because they don’t have access to glasses, and over 75 percent of visual impairment is avoidable.