Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has called on those Barbadians who have the ???slightest concern??? about their vision to have their eyes tested.
He made the call last evening while delivering the feature address at the opening ceremony of the Caribbean Council for the Blind???s Biennial and 46th Anniversary General Meeting at the Amaryllis Beach Resort.
Mr. Stuart said the leading causes of blindness in developing nations included infections, cataracts, glaucoma, Vitamin A deficiency, and injury, and that this was compounded by an inability to obtain spectacles. He expressed the view, therefore, that it was not surprising that blindness was much more common in developing countries.
???It is clearly related to one???s standard of living and is highly preventable. Prevention must therefore be our highest priority, if we are to reduce the incidence of blindness, low vision or visual impairment in our countries,??? he remarked.
The Prime Minister indicated that there were approximately 39 million blind persons and 245 million persons with low vision in the world. He further stated that 90 per cent of those persons lived in developing countries and about 180,000 of them resided in the English-speaking Caribbean.
However, he noted that there were no detailed statistics on the degrees of blindness for various reasons. ???Many people who are visually impaired prefer not to know their true status, for fear of being ostracised,??? he said.
Mr. Stuart pointed out that available statistics in Barbados showed that an estimated one per cent of the population, or 3,000 persons, was considered totally blind, while about four per cent, or 12,000 persons, fell into the category of blind or visually impaired.
He expressed the opinion that there was still a long way to go in terms of removing the barriers that physically and metaphorically block the path to progress for the blind and visually impaired.
???This requires collaboration between the Government, the private sector and the trade unions. Protocol VI of the Social Partnership of Barbados contains a commitment by these three partners to provide an environment conducive to the full integration of all persons with disabilities in our society,??? he said.
Mr. Stuart noted that there were many useful programmes being carried out in Barbados by state and non-state actors. He identified one such initiative as the Information Technology Programme, which is conducted by the National Disabilities Unit, in collaboration with LIME.
|A section of the audience enjoying the??performance by??Elviston “Size 2” Maloney.?? (A. Miller/BGIS)|
He stated: ???I am convinced that with the use of existing technology, we are on the threshold of emancipating our blind and visually impaired citizens. Our efforts are helping them to gain access to the exciting programmes being developed to facilitate their education, employment and safety in their home and working environments.???
He noted that the Eye Clinic at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the services at the polyclinics were being expanded and active community outreach programmes were being developed. In addition, Mr. Stuart pointed out that the Ministry of Education had also been working assiduously to ensure that children who were blind or had sight disorders were not excluded from access to education.
During the opening ceremony, a number of people received James Alves Awards, including Carson Small, Armed Alleyne, Bernard Cumberbatch, Dorien Pile, Clyde Field and Clevedon Mayers.
James Alves was born in British Guiana, and was a pioneer in the programme of services for blind and visually impaired persons in the Caribbean. He died in August 1969.