By Carol Natukunda
and John Odyek
I went for an eye check-up and immediately, someone started showing me the glasses on sale,â€ says Rebecca Akello, a middle-aged woman who claimed that some eye care centres in Kampala only care about selling glasses.
Dr Ada Kakembo, the assistant secretary general of the Ophthalmological Society of East Africa-Uganda Chapter, says, â€œUnethical people will prescribe glasses even if you donâ€™t need them. Others train people in one week and call them doctors. They are after monetary gain, but are putting patientsâ€™ health at risk.â€
Eyes are one of the most sensitive organs of the body. Sometimes they itch, get injured or we cannot see clearly. You rush to an eye care centre and are immediately instructed to buy glasses!
You could go blind
Dr. Denis Sekubwa, an ophthalmologist, says when an eye ailment is addressed with a wrong treatment, one could go blind over time. Wrong prescriptions are feared to be the significant cause of eye complications, according to the 2004 Uganda National Strategic Plan for Prevention of Blindness.
â€œAbout 10,000 to 80,000 people get blind because they may have been given glasses when they had an ailment that required treatment earlier.â€
When should glasses be
Frank Ringo, an optician at the Lens and Frames Opticians at Ivory Plaza in Kampala, says glasses are prescribed when one is either short- sighted or long-sighted.
â€œShort-sighted people cannot see things which are far, while the long sighted cannot see things that are near. One needs to undergo testing to determine their condition so that glasses can restore normal vision,â€ Ringo adds.
Kakembo says age also causes situations that require glasses. â€œAt about 40, some people get long-sightedness. This is called presbyopia.â€ It is the inability of the eye to focus on nearby objects, resulting from loss of elasticity of the crystalline lens.
She says glasses may also be recommended for people who have a problem with light such as computer light, headlights from vehicles or sunlight.
Kakembo said such people get photo chromic glasses. Photo chromic glasses with an antiglare component protect one from glare while driving at night.
Kakembo said long-sightedness, short-sightedness and presbyopia belong to the category of refractive errors. Without a refractive error, one may use photo chromic glasses â€” with or without an antiglare component.
Another case where glasses are worn is when a person undergoes cataract surgery, where the natural lenses in the eye become opaque. The lenses are removed and patients are given glasses. However, in the new cataract surgery, the eye lenses are replaced with artificial ones.
For how long do glasses work?
Genevieve Kabwende, a general sight specialist at Optical and Diagnostic Centre, Rubaga, says a prescription for glasses is good for a year or more, with some circumstances requiring change of glasses at a shorter interval. â€œIf your vision is decreasing in one or both eyes, you should check to see if you need new glasses.â€
What about sunglasses?
Kakembo says there are good and bad quality shades. â€œRefrain from buying cheap, poor quality shades because they will affect your eyesight. A good optometrist will show you good sunglasses, which can protect your eyes from sunlight and ultraviolet rays.â€
Who is who?
Kakembo said the public has to distinguish between ophthalmologists, optometrists and opticians. â€œOphthalmologists are medical doctors who have training in ophthalmology. They diagnose eye disease, refractive errors and prescribe spectacles. Optometrists study optometry and can diagnose refractive errors and prescribe glasses. A good optometrist recognises patients with eye diseases and refers them to an ophthalmologist. An optician is a technical person who translates the prescription into spectacles,â€ she said.
â€œUnfortunately, there are many opticians and optometrists who want to do everything. They prescribe glasses for glaucoma cases when surgery is the solution. They are not supposed to prescribe drugs like steroids because they are very harmful to the eye,â€ she said.
According to the Ministry of Health, there are only 29 recognised ophthalmologists countrywide, more than half of whom are based in Kampala. The mean ratio of an ophthalmologist to eye patients is estimated at 1:1,000,000 per year.