Guard Your Eyes Jealously

In August 2017, it happened that I met my pre-primary school teacher deep down in my cradle village in central Uganda. Unfortunately, my teacher has a very big problem with his eyes that he can no longer notice me at a distance. Upon a lengthy conversation the debate ensued on which is more important between the 'eyes' and the 'ears'. I tried to convince him that both are important, but he told me with a passion that the eyes are a meaning of life! He cited many things that the eyes can see but are not heard, yet the ear can hear many sounds of many things it cannot notice without seeing them! The eyes believe what they see but the ears believe other people. 

Winning the argument or prolonging it was never my case but he told me that the eyes of the conscious owner are forever in sight even if he/she is above 80 years of age. Never mind that the pope was once an altar boy. With his age and the rapidly fading sight, he said, 'I may be reading between the lines that do not exist at all. I cannot even see the mountain between us. I don't live my life, I have no choice to live with you. It is you who choose to live with me, guide my life. Without sight you cannot even measure the distance ahead of you!?' Then where is the value of this earthly life when you don't see and enjoy its land, its green treasures and the blue sky? Above all, our eyes are responsible for four-fifths of all the information our brain receives. 

A few months later, I found myself cracking a joke and laughing alone. As a writer, I have recently been spending many hours - sometimes all day - at the computer to revise my third book, "The Valueless Dollar." But while sitting in front of the screen, I developed burning in my eyes that made it very difficult to work. After resting my eyes for a while, the discomfort abates, but it quickly returns when I go back to the computer. If I was playing computer games, I would turn off the computer, but I need it to work, even though I am somehow frustrated.

Around 2.5 billion people with poor vision, of whom 80 percent live in developing countries, do not have eyeglasses, which could vastly improve their vision. The leading causes of blindness - cataract, uncorrected refractive error, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, blinding complications from diabetes, and corneal blindness caused by neglected tropical diseases -- affect developing countries disproportionately. The consequences are far-reaching. Poor vision impacts people throughout their lives, preventing children from succeeding at school and adults from reaching their economic potential. Lost productivity from poor vision costs the global economy $227 billion every year, according to the World Economic Forum. It's a major public health issue that hasn't yet harnessed as much attention from the development community as it might have. Lack of high-quality, disaggregated data is a major barrier to building efficient interventions. We know that women and children are disproportionately affected by poor eye health - women represent 55 percent of visually impaired people and 60 percent of blind people worldwide - but more information is needed on other marginalized populations such as ethnic minorities and migrants to uncover how people are actually impacted by poor eyesight. Eye health shouldn't necessarily be seen as a specialization within health care. Some of the leading factors of vision loss, such as premature birth, diabetes, and vitamin A deficiency, could indeed be addressed through primary health care services. Many of the things that are leading to vision impairment and disability are easy to treat when treated in time and by the right people. Eye health is a very good indicator of whether health systems work, and whether at the time you're in need of treatment, you have a chance to access that treatment.

It has also been discovered that I have a condition called computer vision syndrome. I am hardly alone. It can affect anyone who spends three or more hours a day in front of computer monitors, and the population at risk is potentially huge. Worldwide, up to 100 million workers are at risk for computer vision syndrome, and those numbers are only likely to grow. In a report about the condition written by eye care specialists in Nigeria and Botswana and published in Medical Practice and Reviews, the authors detail an expanding list of professionals at risk - accountants, architects, bankers, engineers, flight controllers, graphic artists, journalists, academicians, secretaries and students - all of whom "cannot work without the help of a computer." And that's not counting the millions of children and adolescents who spend many hours a day playing computer games.

Studies have indicated 70 percent to 90 percent of people who use computers extensively, whether for work or play, have one or more symptoms of computer vision syndrome. The effects of prolonged computer use are not just vision-related. Complaints include neurological symptoms like chronic headaches and musculoskeletal problems like neck and back pain. The report's authors, Tope Raymond Akinbinu of Nigeria and Y. J. Mashalla of Botswana, cited four studies demonstrating that use of a computer for even three hours a day is likely to result in eye symptoms, lower back pain, tension headache and psychosocial stress. Still, the most common computer-related complaint involves the eyes, which can develop blurred or double vision as well as burning, itching, dryness and redness, all of which can interfere with work performance.

One reason the problem is so pervasive: unlike words printed on a page that have sharply defined edges, electronic characters, which are made up of pixels, have blurred edges, making it more difficult for eyes to maintain focus. Unconsciously, the eyes repeatedly attempt to rest by shifting their focus to an area behind the screen, and this constant switch between screen and relaxation point creates eyestrain and fatigue. Another unconscious effect is a greatly reduced frequency of blinking, which can result in dry, irritated eyes. Instead of a normal blink rate of 17 or more blinks a minute, while working on a computer the blink rate is often reduced to only about 12 to 15 blinks.

Be sure to use a font size best suited to your visual acuity, and have your eyes examined regularly - at least once a year - to be sure your prescription is up-to-date. This is especially important for people older than 40 and for children who are heavy users of computers because visual acuity can change with age. Make sure, too, that your monitor has a high-resolution display that provides sharper type and crisper images. And clean the monitor often with an antistatic dust cloth. While prevention is most important, if you already have symptoms of computer vision syndrome, there are ways to reduce or eliminate them. Ophthalmologists suggest adhering to the '20-20-20' rule : Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look at something 20 feet away.

Consciously blink as often as possible to keep eye surfaces well lubricated. To further counter dryness, redness and painful irritation, use lubricating eye drops several times a day. My ophthalmologist recommends products free of preservatives sold in single-use dispensers. You can also reduce the risk of dry eyes by keeping air from blowing in your face and by using a humidifier to add moisture to the air in the room. My eye doctor also suggested applying warm moist compresses to the eyes every morning. But before we blame old age, there are many children in the developing world who are struggling with undetected vision problems and often fail to progress well in school. Every year, charity organizations like Humanity Direct of the United Kingdom with its partners carry out thousands of eye examinations among school-going children, give them glasses free of charge with the aim of effectively supporting or changing their academic life and refer the children with complex eye problems for surgical operations and eye treatment, that is also totally free to prevent blindness and restore sight. 

It is clear that for over 600 million people in the developing world, glasses are a distant dream. Access to eye care is almost non-existent in sub-Saharan Africa, and highly restricted in other parts of the developing world. It is beyond the reach of hundreds of millions of the world's growing urban poor. A lack of proper eyesight has direct consequences for those affected by it; a reduction in productivity at work, a closing-off of new opportunities, a reduction in quality of life, a possible deterioration in general health and possibly preventable blindness. This may sound an unusual fact, or plainly put, an outdated fact, to my lovely mother, Deborah Whitehouse of the United States of America, who really loves her family, especially her children and grandchildren (as evidenced by her social media posts and willingness to help the needy/vulnerable children), because their health estate is well lit - which is the exact opposite of what happens in many less developing countries. Anyway, to politely suggest to my sweetheart - Deborah Whitehouse (owning/doing business with/President of Consulting for Growth, Coaching for Growth helping people and businesses to succeed with the change coming into their lives and work) - that, though in many occasions my brothers and sisters may be assured of accessing eye glasses and treatment upon need, as a wonderful parent, you need to mind about their lifestyle as it may also endanger their vision and sight i.e many children spend their time on video games, watching television and playing various sports without any protective gear on their eyes to the detriment of their sight. Oh yes, in the developed world, eyeglasses are usually obtained through optometrists' practices, and the correction prescription they determine through subjective refraction is sent to an optical laboratory, where lenses are ground to the correct refractive power and cut to the correct shape to fit into frames.

For instance, there are activations done by Watford opticians 'Glasses on Spec' (measuring to the mark of their slogan; of 'Seeing Things Simply') and charity Humanity Direct in a joint initiative to provide children in Uganda with eye tests and glasses as a remedy to address the sight challenges for the school-going children. As part of a drive to check school children in the country had optimal vision, the charity arranges for thousands of pupils to have sight tests, with the help of an ophthalmologist and four nurses from Mulago Hospital, Kampala. 

Glasses on Spec and Mr. William Luff produce and offer the charity a variety of pairs of spectacles for the children, completely free of charge. The delivery is always done by charity operators - Mr. Nick Swift, Mrs. Katrina Swift, Mr. Kasozi Dickson- and the response from the beneficiaries is encouraging. Building on the success of this initiative, Glasses on Spec and Humanity Direct are aiming to roll out many other programmes in the more rural parts of the country where the need for sight testing and care is even greater. However, auto-refractor rental accounted for a third of the project's cost, so an appeal has been issued by the charity for a used mobile auto-refractor, a slit lamp and any end-of-line frames and lenses. Humanity direct further raises funds to bail out vulnerable children who need surgical operations but cannot afford the required cost in developing countries through marathons, triathlons and challenges between the charity founders and other well-wishers to enable donors to help directly fund operations that change the lives of the young patients. 

There is also a case that the rapid increase in nearsightedness appears to be due to a characteristic of modern life: more and more time spent indoors under artificial lights. Our genes were originally selected to succeed in a very different world from the one we live in today. Humans' brains and eyes originated long ago, when we spent most of our waking hours in the sun. The process of development takes advantage of such reliable features of the environment, which then may become necessary for normal growth.

Should we say that the sun is the best optometrist? WHY is nearsightedness so common in the modern world? In the early 1980s, 35 percent of Africans were nearsighted; three decades later, the rate had risen to 56 percent, and similar increases have occurred around the world. There is significant evidence that the trait is inherited, so you might wonder why our myopic ancestors weren't just removed from the gene pool long ago, when they blundered into a hungry lion or off a cliff. But although genes do influence our fates, they are not the only factors at play.

Researchers suspect that bright outdoor light helps children's developing eyes maintain the correct distance between the lens and the retina-which keeps vision in focus. Dim indoor lighting doesn't seem to provide the same kind of feedback. As a result, when children spend too many hours inside, their eyes fail to grow correctly and the distance between the lens and retina becomes too long, causing far-away objects to look blurry.

Luckily, there is a simple way to lower the risk of nearsightedness, and today, the summer solstice - the longest day of the year - is the perfect time to begin embracing it: get children to spend more time outside. And for many of us living in Sub-Saharan Africa where the sun is present throughout the year, there is a relative ease in making this happen.

Parents concerned about their children's spending time playing instead of studying may be relieved to know that the common belief that "near work" - reading or computer use - leads to nearsightedness is incorrect. Among children who spend the same amount of time outside, the amount of near work has no correlation with nearsightedness. Hours spent indoors looking at a screen or book simply means less time spent outside, which is what really matters. This leads us to a recommendation that may satisfy tiger and soccer moms alike: if your child is going to stick his nose in a book this summer, get him/her to do it outdoors.

Then we have to avoid eye injuries in sports, especially children's sports, which are worryingly common and often involve activities that most of us probably would not consider risky for eyes. Sports-related eye injuries can be quite serious. I henceforth, suggest that anyone involved with youth sports should be vigilant about protecting young people's eyes, perhaps in part by stocking up on wraparound glasses. But far less attention has been devoted to eye injuries, even though eyes can be especially vulnerable during sports. They tend to be facing directly into the action and have little natural protection against pokes or flying objects. If you're dealing with projectiles or fast-moving objects such as a ballistic paint blob or a baseball, protective eye-wear is definitely worthwhile. Protecting eyes in a sport like basketball, where wayward fingers and sharp elbows are usually to blame, could be harder. Wraparound glasses with shatterproof lenses can keep out a lot of undesirable objects including fingers, debris and misdirected curve balls. Such eye-wear may not previously have been associated with elite performance or stylishness in athletics. But knowing what we know now about how many eye injuries occur during sports, especially youth sports, let's try for a cultural shift and convince the kids they look really good wearing those glasses.


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