By Asmau Ahmad
An ophthalmologist, Dr Chika Ugagu, says measles is one of the leading causes of childhood blindness in Nigeria and third world countries, based on several researches conducted.
Ugagu who disclosed this to newsmen on Saturday in Jos, said that blindness from measles occur when the infection affects the cornea which is the transparent surface of the eye that receives light.
She explained that the infection causes an ulcer in the cornea which leads to the scarring of the cornea and the resultant effect is blindness.
“The measles infection makes the body of the child to use up vitamin A very fast, a child with measles that hasn’t been treated would have depleted vitamin A and this deficiency would now lead to cornea ulcer and scarring and then blindness,” she explained.
She disclosed that children who haven’t been given the measles vaccination are more susceptible to cornea scarring when infected with measles as compared to children who have been vaccinated.
According to her, when a child had measles, the child would have cornea exposure which means the child blinks less and this could make the cornea dry up and when this occurs an ulcer or infection could set in and the complication could lead to cornea scarring.
Ugagu also revealed that when a child had measles infection, the eyes are red and swollen and some parents and caregivers patronise traditional vendors who make use of traditional herbs that are harmful to the cornea and this damages the cornea which leads to blindness.
The ophthalmologist cautioned parents against patronising traditional medicine vendors, as they could cause more harm by the use of concoctions that were harmful to the cornea.
She further advised parents and guardians to ensure that their children and wards were immunised since measles is preventable.
Ugagu called on parents to feed their children with food and vegetables rich in vitamin A.
She further pointed out that aside measles they are other factors that predispose children to blindness such as childhood cataract, either congenital (developed in the womb) or developmental.
Ugagu said that developmental cataract can be caused by trauma to the eye, in which cataract forms.
She disclosed that cataract is treatable and early detection is vital to avert blindness.
The ophthalmologist further disclosed that certain infections during pregnancy could predispose the baby to blindness such as rubella, toxoplasmosis.
She explained that when a pregnant woman gets infected with toxoplasmosis during pregnancy and passes the infection to the unborn baby, it can result to the unborn baby having serious health problems such as blindness.
Ugagu said that toxoplasmosis has been traced to expectant mothers ingesting unpasteurised milk which has the toxoplasmosis and this gets to the baby in the womb.
The ophthalmologist revealed that new-born conjunctivitis if not treated or poorly treated would also lead to the scarring of the cornea which causes blindness.
She stated that most of the causes of blindness in children are avoidable.
Ugagu, however, lamented that primary prevention strategies especially in the rural areas seem to be inadequate.
She further lamented insufficient infrastructure for paediatric ophthalmology in tertiary referral centres, saying that the growing population of children who need ophthalmology services, especially for cataract and glaucoma cases, require surgery.