FRANCIS LUNGU, Lusaka
FESTUS Nkemba, 17, now visually impaired, regularly goes to Christ Jubilation Congregation in Kafue for weekend and mid-week prayer sessions, believing that one day, his sight could be restored.
Sitting at his parent’s house in Solobon township in Kafue district, Festus grabbles with coming to terms with aided life in almost everything he needs done after he lost sight.
Born with sight among eight siblings, Festus became visually impaired in 2013 at the age of 12. This occurred just before he could sit for his Grade Seven final examinations five years ago.
Since then, Festus has been facing difficulties in doing personal things such as bathing, dressing up and navigating around the precinct of his parents’ residence or the vicinity of Solobon township.
“I would like the government to help me with specialised medical treatment for my sight. I would also like to be helped with an opportunity to go back to school,” he passionately appeals in an interview.
He says there are an assortment of needs to be addressed for him to lead a convenient lifestyle as he is still seeking ‘miraculous’ help to restore his sight.
“After I lost my sight, life has been so miserable, everything seems to have come to a standstill. I have lost friends and I now need almost everything to be done for me, but again, people around cannot manage to do everything for me,” he said, adding that he sometimes feels he is now a bother to those around him.
“I realized there could be a problem with his sight when I realised my son was having difficulties in writing properly,” Festus’ father, Goodson Nkemba said in an interview.
He said Festus would write in a zigzag manner and skip a number of lines in his notebook.
Mr Nkemba, unemployed, says Festus would say he could not see the lines in the book and the pages appeared as plain white.
“From there, he was complaining of itchiness in the eyes and had a problem walking properly. He also started gaining weight abnormally and shaking. That was the beginning of the problem,” Mr Nkemba said.
Soon after that, Festus became visually impaired. And thus began an eye-sight medication seeking journey that has continued to date.
Mr Nkemba explains that he has taken Festus to different eye hospitals such as Lusaka’s Levy Mwanawasa Teaching Hospital and the University Teaching Hospital (UTH), but medical personnel are yet to detect any problem.
“When we took him to UTH, he was operated on and doctors fixed what they called a shunt from his head to the abdomen to suck the fluid suspected to have been responsible for his obese condition and his weight eventually came back to normal,” he said.
Festus’ father is now appealing for help for his son to go to a specialized school for the visually impaired as medical help is still being sought.
What surprised the Nkemba’s the most was the rapid gain of weight in Festus at the beginning, a strange condition they later suspected to have been responsible for his blindness.
According to recent scientific healthy research, overweight and obesity have been linked to eyesight risks which could lead to sight loss.
The research indicates that it is common knowledge that expanding waistlines are linked to conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Two Israeli ophthalmologists who conducted the research are now warning that the prospect of eye disease should also be a powerful incentive to lose weight.
Professor Michael Belkin and Dr Zohar Habot-Wilner, from the Goldschleger Eye Institute at the Sheba Medical Centre, reviewed more than 20 studies involving thousands of patients worldwide.
They said they found a consistently strong link between obesity and the occurrence and development of four major eye diseases that cause blindness – age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.
Prof Belkin, a professor of ophthalmology at Tel Aviv University, said: “The purpose behind this review was to acquaint physicians and laypeople with the dangers of being fat as related to ophthalmology.”
He notes that all the common eye diseases can affect sight to some extent, with most sufferers experiencing deterioration over time.
The four main eye diseases highlighted by the researchers were; age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – a disease which causes the sharp, central vision to blur, making some activities such as reading difficult. AMD affects the macula – the part of the eye that allows one to see fine detail.
Cataracts – a clouding of the lens in the eye that affects vision. Glaucoma – a group of diseases that can damage the eye’s optic nerve, resulting in vision loss and blindness.
Diabetic retinopathy: a complication of diabetes which is a leading cause of blindness. The condition occurs when diabetes damages the tiny blood vessels inside the retina – the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye.
The researchers said although the evidence was out there suggesting a link between obesity and these conditions, the results were not well known by the public.
Prof Belkin said people with high Body Mass Index (BMI), who are clinically obese have an increased chance of eye disease which are also more likely to progress more quickly in obese people.
The researchers said in some cases, the reason for the link between obesity and the diseases was clear.
For example, since glaucoma, diabetes and AMD all affect the vascular system and excess weight is known to create pulmonary problems, the blood vessels in the eyes are affected and sight deteriorates.
Nonetheless, they say the link between weight and cataracts is less clear.
“Nobody has the faintest idea why cataracts are affected since it is a disease of the lens of the eye,” Prof Belkin said.
In addition, Dr Habot-Wilner said it was likely that the link had something to do with the fact that obese people face a greater chance of developing gout – a disease in which the development of cataracts is more common.
But she stressed that the study wanted to raise awareness of the risks of sight problems linked to obesity, rather than why these conditions occur more often and cause more damage in obese people.
“The message we want to send is that obesity can cause not just cancer and hypertension but also ocular disease. While this is something that most ophthalmologists know, it’s not common knowledge and it should be. It’s the risk factor that no one talks about,” she said.
FRANCIS LUNGU, Lusaka