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Eye health is wealth

By LAI S. REYES, The Philippine STAR Published Nov 02, 2020 4:00 pm

When it comes to eye health, take no chances.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll not only on our physical, emotional and mental health, but our eye health as well. People are spending more time indoors. And under the new norm, using cell phones, laptops and tablets comes as naturally as breathing.

“In the past, we relied on these gadgets to ease our workload,” notes Dr. Ma. Margarita Luna, president of the Philippine Academy of Ophthalmology. “But now, even our socializing is conducted in front of the computer.”

And with classes going digital now, all the extra screen time can trigger eyestrain, blurry vision and dry eyes.

While staying glued to a digital screen, the blink rate reduces. Blinking helps moisten the eyes. Not blinking enough can cause dry eyes.

Doctors fear the risk of myopia or nearsightedness among schoolkids. Excessive strain is the reason why most kids complain of headaches.

“The prevalence of myopia among schoolchildren is 8.9 percent. That’s around two kindergarten students in a class of 20,” explains Dr. Leo Cubillan, director of the Philippine Eye Research Institute. “In high school, this increases to 16 percent. Over the last 10 years, there has been an increasing prevalence of myopia in this country.”

As more kids are glued to a digital screen, expect the numbers to rise tremendously.

To help parents and students take better care of their eyes, the Philippine Academy of Ophthalmology and its sub-specialty societies have come up with infographics on the recommended screen time for children and adults.

Follow the recommended screen time for kids below:

  • One-year-old and younger: No screen time
  • Two years old: Less than one hour adult-supervised screen time
  • Three to four years old: Less than one hour adult-supervised
  • Above five years old: Adult-supervised quality screen time with frequent breaks in between.

“If you are required to use the computer for more than two hours, practice the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and focus your eyes on something at least 20 feet away,” advises Dr. Luna during the celebration of World Sight Day (WSD) via Zoom.

Initiated by the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), WSB is an annual day of awareness that focuses global attention on blindness and vision impairment.

Novartis Healthcare Phils. president Jugo Tsumura with Dr. Beverly Lorraine Ho, Dr. Leo Cubillan, Amanda Davis, Mardi Mapa-Suplido, Dr. Ma. Margarita Lat-Luna, Dr. Marie Joan Loy, Dr. Noel Chua, Dr. Peter Paul Ronque and Christine Fajardo

Vision screening is a must

Last year, the World Health Organization sponsored the Philippine Eye Health Summit.

At the summit, it was presented that there’s an increasing prevalence of myopia worldwide. And blindness is a complication of high myopia.

“Outdoor exposure has been shown to help reduce myopia prevalence in kindergarten and primary school kids,” says Dr. Cubillan.

With that, DepEd has committed to add an additional hour of different outdoor activities for kindergarten and primary school students to address this problem.

The DOH (Department of Health) is working on the classification of eyeglasses as a medical device so this can be included in the health insurance system.

Also, to address the problem of visual impairment among kindergarten pupils, the National Vision Screening program was developed. This allows teachers to screen the students in the classroom.

A vision chart is placed 10 feet away from the child. He/she will then be asked by the teacher to identify the pictures on the board. If the student fails to identify three out of five figures, he/she will be seated in the front row of the classroom as an immediate intervention.

“The student will then be referred to an eye-care professional for evaluation and treatment,” explains Dr. Cubillan.

In keeping with the times, the Philippine Eye Institute launched the Online Remote Vision Screening program. This involves a trained screener using his/her laptop or mobile device, which will be shared remotely with a child at home through FB Messenger or Viber.

Preventing avoidable blindness

More than one billion people around the globe can’t see well simply because they don’t have access to glasses.

“And there are 253 million visually impaired, and four out of five need not be,” stresses Dr. Marie Joan Loy, president of the Vitreo-Retina Society of the Philippines (VRSP). “Like those suffering from diabetic retinopathy.”

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes and a major cause of blindness among working adults. This year, there are 3.9 million Filipino people with diabetes and more than half of them are diagnosed with the risk of going blind.

Aimed at decreasing the prevalence of preventable blindness due to retinal diseases, the VRSP created the Mulat Mata: Diabetic Retinopathy project.

“Our goal is to set up a comprehensive diabetic retinopathy program consisting of awareness campaigns and education, diabetic retinopathy screening and data gathering,” explains Dr. Loy. “We will pilot the program at the community level particularly in the province of Bulacan, which we hope to replicate in the other provinces.”

Visual impairment may be prevented if doctors can diagnose and monitor patients with diabetes and diabetes retinopathy early on.

“Through screening, we will be able to manage the disease early and prevent further worsening of their vision and condition,” adds. Dr. Loy

The Philippine Eye Institute, in collaboration with the DOH, conducted the Philippine Eye Disease Study in 2018. 

According to the study, the major cause of visual impairment is cataracts at 1.06 percent.

“It means that 1.16 million Filipinos have cataracts and 387,000 of them require surgery,” notes Dr. Cubillan. “With the DOH’s Vision 20/20 Program, this number is already reduced compared to the more than 500,000 bilateral blind Filipinos seen during our previous surveys.

An uncorrected error of refraction accounts for 4.38 percent or around 416,000 Filipinos; glaucoma at around 0.27 percent or 295,000 Filipinos; and maculopathy/DM retinopathy at 0.2 percent or 219,162 Filipinos.

Hope in Sight

Novartis has long been committed to improve eye health worldwide through its Excellence in Ophthalmology Vision Awards (XOVA).

“For the past 10 years, we have awarded 56 grants to support innovative projects to improve eye health across 36 countries,” enthuses Jugo Tsumura, Novartis Healthcare Phils. president.

Together with the IAPB, Novartis is kicking off a new initiative to provide eye screenings and education in countries with high unmet needs and limited access to healthcare.

“We are collaborating with The Fred Hollows Foundation and the VRSP to provide patient education and screening of common eye conditions,” adds Fajardo.

The Fred Hollows Foundation will set up an extensive diabetic retinopathy screening program at the community level in the province of Bulacan. The aim is to screen over 50,000 Filipinos across the seven provinces and to reach 700,000 via the educational initiatives.

“People losing their eyesight due to avoidable causes is unacceptable,” stresses Amanda Davis, IAPB regional chair. “By working closely together, we can make a difference.”