Basseterre, St. Kitts, March 14, 2017 (SKNIS): In an effort to bring awareness to citizens and residents about the effects of Glaucoma and the possible preventative methods, the Ministry of Health joins the rest of the world in launching World Glaucoma Week, celebrated under the theme “B.I.G. – Beat Invisible Glaucoma” from March 12-18.

In her address to the nation to commence the week, the Honourable Wendy Phipps, Minister of State with responsibility for Health, said that “the campaign objective is achieved via the organization of a host of sensitization programmes and projects involving key stakeholders such as eye care specialists, universities, hospitals, clinics, glaucoma patient groups, governments and donor agencies.”

The minister said that persons need to take stock and take the disease seriously by getting their checkups where necessary.

“Given the fact that glaucoma can occur gradually over time without being detected, it is important that persons police their health via regular or annual vision checks. It is important to note that in many instances glaucoma symptoms only manifest when the disease is far advanced,” she said. “Once vision is lost to glaucoma it cannot be reversed. Glaucoma is also ranked as the 2nd most common cause of blindness globally, with cataracts being deemed the leading cause. Some six million persons in the world are blind as a result of glaucoma. This translates in the statistic that just over 12 percent of all blindness in the world is as a result of glaucoma.”

She explained glaucoma as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO).

“The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines glaucoma as a group of eye diseases that cause progressive damage to the Optic Nerve – the main nerve responsible for vision in the body, which carries images to the brain,” she said. “In a normal eye, the watery or aqueous fluid produced by the layer of cells behind the iris (or coloured portion of the eye) passes through the hole in the middle of the iris, (called the pupil), to leave the eye through a series of tiny drains. In glaucoma patients this fluid does not pass properly through the drainage system and, as a result, the pressure in the eye increases and places stress on the optic nerve. Over time, the constant pressure damages the nerve fibres.”

Minister Phipps explained that by the year 2020 it is expected that some 11.2 million persons would have been diagnosed with glaucoma. She said that some of the chronic glaucoma risk factors to take into consideration are: age, race, family history, short sightedness and diabetes.