Talking with the head of Ghana’s National Eye Care Unit

Written by Admin, published on May 27, 2014 Donate Today

Recently, I spoke with Dr. Oscar Debrah, head of the Eye Care Unit at Ghana Health Service. Operation Eyesight is working to eliminate avoidable blindness in Ghana through the Seeing is Believing program, a partnership with Standard Chartered Bank. As we are working with Dr. Debrah to implement this program, I questioned him on the progress being made.

What is the current state of eye health delivery in Ghana?

We recognize that our government alone cannot fund the delivery of eye health services. However, in a developing country like ours, where donor funding is mostly geared towards reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, quality eye health delivery is a challenge.

Even though I’m happy to see NGOs supporting eye health, in the case of Ghana, some officials see eye health as the responsibility of NGOs. The government provides infrastructure and pays the salaries of public eye health workers, but very little funding is provided for service delivery.

When I assumed my current position in 2006, there were many challenges regarding infrastructure and equipment, access to eye services and staffing. With the employment of optometrists by the Ghana Health Service (though minimal) and an increase in the yearly training of ophthalmic nurses, the staffing situation has improved. The number of ophthalmologists, however, has not.

With Operation Eyesight providing select facilities with basic ophthalmic equipment, some hospitals are well positioned to function. And you have made modest gains in constructing and renovating some eye units. However, infrastructure continues to be a challenge in some hospitals where eye units continue to work out of small rooms.

Seeing is Believing Phase V was launched in September 2013, integrating primary eye care into primary health care in all 10 regions of Ghana. Thanks to our donors, Ghanaian families like this have better access to eye care services.

How do you view the work of Operation Eyesight in Ghana?

Operation Eyesight’s approach of integrating primary eye care into primary health care is commendable as it provides easy access to eye health services. You have done tremendous work in providing refresher training for ophthalmic nurses and equipment technicians, as well as providing some equipment and infrastructure.

Is Ghana on course to achieve VISION 2020’s objectives?

Ghana hopes to achieve VISION 2020, but efforts need to be intensified. Some hospitals still do not have ophthalmic nurses and have very low cataract surgery rates. Training of ophthalmologists also needs to be looked into so those coming out of training will have the expertise and confidence to practice and be posted to deprived areas.

Ghana recently made news headlines when it was declared the leading country in glaucoma cases worldwide. What are the Ghana Health Service and Ministry of Health’s plans to deal with this situation? 

Efforts have been made to distribute equipment for diagnosing glaucoma to all teaching and regional hospitals, as well as to select district hospitals. The government also supports the annual Glaucoma Week.

We need to increase glaucoma awareness throughout the country so that everyone knows about the disease and will get their eyes checked. That way, those diagnosed can receive early treatment and reduce their risk of going blind from the disease.

Any final words?

The Government of Ghana is grateful to Operation Eyesight and Seeing is Believing for equipping many hospitals and making every effort to integrate eye health into primary health care!

We are grateful to Dr. Debrah, too – for taking the time to answer our questions, and for his dedication to eliminating avoidable blindness in Ghana! To learn more about the work Operation Eyesight is doing in Ghana, visit the Programs & Projects page on our website.