Passion alone is often not enough, one must immerse totally in an interest to make headway in a chosen endeavour. That is the picture Dr Chigaemezu Edward, who is not just passionate about eye health care, but also wants to revolutionise optometry, which he laments is not fully recognised in Nigeria as in other developing parts of the world paints.
“I’m interested in public health optometry because public health cuts across all areas of the health line. I’m passionate about touching lives especially those in areas where the standard of living is low,” Dr Edward, who has been an optometrist since he obtained his degree at Madonna University, said in recent interview.
He said that many communities are struggling to access good eye care services and rely on government-owned hospitals for help. And where such can’t be accessed, they, he added, resort to traditional ways which worsen the problem.
“I see helping people as a call to service to my fatherland. I also want to take up lecturing someday to impart the knowledge and experience garnered over the years to students in the health line. Naturally, it should be a lucrative job like in other climes but in Nigeria various challenges seem to downplay this potentially financially rewarding profession and stifle more job opportunities in the field,” said the young optometrist who interned at Rivers State University Teaching Hospital, Port Harcourt, after his degree.
He counts the challenges faced by optometrists in the country to include having an inadequate number of optometrists meant to cater for the Nigerian populace as the optometrist-to-population ratio in Nigeria is about 1:45,000 for a developing country with a burden of eye diseases prevalent here. There is also he says, the Inability to have access to them, which further creates a communication lapse as the proper eye care orientation which would have been passed across to them is negated.
“This spurs people to look for alternative remedy via traditional means of eye treatment, which only complicates issues rather than solving them. I believe if we have more optometrists, we can reach more people and educate them effectively about the eye and more, put a stop to over the counter purchase of unprescribed eye medication for instance, eye drops, the abuse of which results in corneal opacity or even corneal ulcer, that can lead to blindness if not properly managed,” Dr Edward said.
He added the partial recognition of optometrists as public health professionals of the services of the optometrist as a public health professional, the recognition of uncorrected refractive errors as a public health concern by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the creation of refractive error working group(REWG) as part of the vision 2020 activities to help focus attention to this important facet of International eye care.
The native of Mgbede in Egbema Onelga, Rivers State, who comes from a family of eight and is the fourth child and second son of Mr and Mrs Ezbuike Monday, says that poor eyesight of a driver can be a major contributing factor of road accidents “and by driver I mean anyone at any point in time in control of the steering wheel”. In other words, road accidents should not only be associated with speeding, drunkenness, worn out tyres and failed brakes alone as poor eyesight of the driver as a vital contributing factor.
Perception, Dr Edward said, are essential for driving safely which accounts for about 90% of the decision made behind the wheel; whether the intends to swerve on time to avoid a collision or hitting someone, overtake, stop abruptly, reverse, make a turn, slow down or increase speed.
“The ability to see road traffic signs, notice dashboard indicators, anticipate and react to the actions of other road users quickly, can be affected by visual impairment. The misconceived notion of creating and utilising strategies such as driving slowly, or driving on less busy roads can’t mitigate the shortcomings. It can be equated to sitting on a keg of gun powder and we know the consequences of such action,” he said.
Speaking more about himself Dr Edward indicated that he has had an interesting journey in his chosen career.
“I’ve practiced Optometry for two years running and it has been an interesting professional journey. I’m also an entrepreneur with a budding online shopping business. Many people are going through difficult times and in dire need of help, so in my little way through my social media page, I lend a helping hand to them alongside discussing life’s pertinent issues,” he said.
What he also never tires of lending a helping hand is in the creating of awareness about eye care in the country, which he classifies as being very poor.
“Many people still use unorthodox treatment, traditional means, and other ways to handle and take care of their eyes rather than recourse to us [optometrists]. This isn’t surprising due to the low ebbed integration of optometrists in the public health space. Sadly, our potentials are not being adequately harnessed, thus resulting in optometrists seeking solace in private practice or relocating to countries that place a premium value on what we bring to the table,” Dr Edward.
His advice to those who want to keep their eyes in good shape is to, among other things, eat a healthy, balanced diet.
“Your diet should include fruits and vegetables, especially deep yellow and green leafy vegetables. Eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, and halibut also helps. Maintain a healthy weight because being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing diabetes which puts you at a higher risk of getting diabetic retinopathy or glaucoma. Regular exercise can lower your risk of getting eye or vision diseases stemming from diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
“Also, exposure to intense sunlight can damage your eyes and raise your risk of getting cataracts and other age-related oracular degeneration. You can protect your eyes by using sunglasses that typically block out 99 to 100 per cent of both UV-A and UV-B radiation. I’m sure many will be surprised when I say this but smoking increases the risk of developing age-related eye diseases such as oracular degeneration and cataracts and can damage the optic nerve. Of course, it goes without saying that once you’re engaged in any activity that you perceive can cause eye injuries, then you must protect your eyes”.
Dr Edward’s fervent believe is that optometrists should be properly integrated into the public health arena, more universities should establish optometry schools on campus because the more optometry schools we have, the higher the chances of producing professionals who will not only enlighten the masses about eye care, visual needs, but also diagnose problems and proffer solutions.
“Also, the creation of a sustainable frame work that will for starters, maintain an optometrist to cater for no more than 20,000 Nigerians resident in every location across the country. This will surely be a major boost to the effort of preventing blindness through the provision of the needed eye care interventions at proximal locations to all persons in the country at all times”.
The good doctor who unwinds by playing football with my friends, reading novels, playing chess or playing the guitar, says that those who desire to tow the optometrist path should stay focused, pay attention to details, embrace the I-can-do-it spirit, study assiduously and make clinicals of paramount importance in their career journey.
“Like some professions that are highly rated, optometry gifts you the opportunity to partake of the untapped harvest that beckons, so seize it”.