Glaucoma, the Silent Thief of Sight

According to Dr. Gian Luca Laffi, it is crucial for people over the age of 40 to see a specialist because, if treated in time, the disease can be stopped.
Federico Bartolomei

World Glaucoma Week was held March 6-12. Glaucoma is a chronic degenerative disease that affects around 800,000 people in Italy alone and is the second leading cause of visual loss in the country, after degenerative maculopathy. Dr. Gian Luca Laffi, an ophthalmologist from AMOA (Association of Ophthalmologists for Africa), talks with us about this.


Dr. Laffi, why is this disease called the silent thief of sight and what impact does it have in Italy and Africa where AMOA works?

Glaucoma is a chronic, progressive, degenerative disease of the optic nerve that produces characteristic visual field damage caused by increased eye pressure. The absence of symptoms until the disease is in an advanced stage has caused this disease to be called “the silent thief of sight.” This fact leads to an underestimation of glaucoma diagnosis even in Italy where there are currently about 800,000 patients. In Africa, the prevalence of glaucoma among the 40-80 age group was 10.3 million in 2020 and will be 19.1 million in 2040.


Why is an awareness week dedicated to glaucoma?

Of the 800,000 people with glaucoma in Italy, many do not know they have the disease precisely because of what was said above. The World Glaucoma Week is to raise awareness among people over 40 years old to have an eye examination especially if there is a case of glaucoma in the family and to keep themselves monitored if a diagnosis has already been made. World Glaucoma Week is a key time to remind everyone to have their eye pressure, optic nerve and visual field checked because glaucoma can take away vision and make you blind. However, if treated in time the disease can be stopped or at least slowed down.


Are ophthalmologists in Africa also promoting the World Glaucoma Week?

The accessibility of an eye examination in Italy is ensured by a sufficient number of eye specialists (in 2014 we were 117 per million inhabitants) while sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest number of eye specialists in the world: 2.9 per million inhabitants in 2014 considering cataract surgery technicians in this number. So, this disease is creating more and more blindness aggravated by the fact that adherence to treatment is poor and medical information is limited. Africa would need awareness campaigns to increase the extent to which a patient correctly follows medical instructions; to provide more training of specialized personnel; to put in place centres of excellence for glaucoma care with improved equipment technology.


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