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Surge in ‘eye problems’ among children concerns ophthalmologist

Theorises increased use of digital devices may be the reason

Published:Thursday | October 27, 2022 | 12:09 AMOlivia Brown/Gleaner Writer
Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn, state minister in the Ministry of Health & Wellness, listens to Dr Nixtin Shah, founding president of Anekant Community Center (ACC) and professor of anaesthesiology & clinical care at Loma Linda University, while Dr Gavin Henry (sec
Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn, state minister in the Ministry of Health & Wellness, listens to Dr Nixtin Shah, founding president of Anekant Community Center (ACC) and professor of anaesthesiology & clinical care at Loma Linda University, while Dr Gavin Henry (second right), consultant ophthalmologist and head of the Ophthalmology Department of the Mandeville Regional Hospital, and Wayne Chen, board chairman of the Southern Regional Health Authority, look on.

A SENIOR medical doctor is blaming a surge in children seeking treatment for “eye problems” on the increased use of digital devices.

Dr Gavin Henry, consultant ophthalmologist and head of the ophthalmology department at the Mandeville Regional Hospital (MRH) in Manchester, said there has been significant increase in children aged five to 15 years seeking medical attention for eye-related issues.

Henry, who was speaking at the sixth Camp Mission (2022) closing ceremony at the hospital on Thursday, has theorised that the prolonged use of tablets and other digital devices among children is responsible for the upsurge.

“A lot of the youngsters coming in now are significantly near-sighted. I’ve seen far more than I’ve seen in the previous five years, and I honestly believe it’s all this near close work which has been instigating it, and there’s been studies that have shown that prolonged activities such as that can eventually induce near-sightedness,” explained Henry.

As a precautionary measure, Henry is advising parents and guardians to limit children’s use of electronic devices, mandating breaks after 20 minutes of use.

“It is the prolonged, constant near-vision activity which is detrimental. I also advise them that whenever they are watching television or other devices, the room should be well lit as well, so they shouldn’t be looking at devices in the dark, that is also a problem,” the consultant ophthalmologist said.

The hospital, in partnership with Florida-based Mind, Body and Soul Ministries, performed 500 cataract surgeries from October 22 to 24. The venture was geared towards reducing the waiting list within the MRH’s ophthalmology department. Henry said the hospital had a waiting list of some 100 patients, adding that MRH tries to tackle 50 cases monthly. He explained that the task was tedious, as some 10 to 20 patients are added to the waiting list daily.

“So this list was increasing exponentially, we were not able to meet the demand,” he revealed.

Henry disclosed that the onset of the novel coronavirus has forced the hospital to cancel a lot of surgeries, adding that the cancellation has led to worsening conditions in patients whose visions were already compromised.

“There were some studies done approximately ten years ago, which indicated that about eighty-five per cent of the patients on our cataract list were only able to count fingers or worse, so these patients progressed to a condition called perception of light only, which is even worse than counting fingers,” Henry explained.

Winsome Carter, 57, who spoke with The Gleaner shortly after her surgery, was a picture of contentment and relief. Carter, who travelled from St Ann to have her procedure done, told The Gleaner that she was relieved, having been waiting some seven years after having the surgery done to her left eye.

Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn, state minister in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, commended the MRH and the Florida-based organisation for what she described as a successful partnership.

“The estimates from the World Health Organization are that worldwide in 2022, some 2.2 billion people are affected by vision impairment, and in more than half of those cases, the impairment could have been prevented, or had yet to be addressed, and we hear another story, that during COVID-19, a number of patients who were on the waiting list are now visually impaired,” said Cuthbert-Flynn.

She also praised the efforts of the team to target schools, stating that children are also at risk of losing their vision.

Hilary Morgan, president of Mind, Body and Soul Health Ministry, said she was pleased to be a part of the venture . She added that it was the visual impairment of a relative that fuelled her passion to establish the organisation. Morgan said the the goal of her team is to positively impact the lives of as many Jamaicans as possible.

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