Former South African president Kgalema Motlante says African leads other continents in the number of people with roblems of visual impairment with about 20 million people having eyesight medical problems.

Motlanthe, an ambassador for the International Council of Ophthalmology’s 2020 initiative, was addressig the 10th General Assembly of the International Agency for Prevention of Blindness Thursday.

The general assembly, taking place in Durban from Oct 27 to 30, has brought together people who are involved in efforts to improve eye health around the world, including the World Health Organization’s Vision 2020, an initiative to eliminate preventable blindness.

According to Montlante, 80 per cent of blindness can be treated and prevented. He said early diagnosis of visual problems, especially among children, can save the child’s vision through early treatment.

“Worldwide, there are about 223 million people who are visually impaired and of those, 32 million are blind and 191 million live with moderate to severe impairment,” he added.

“In fact, Africa carries a large burden of diseases without commensurate resources to respond appropriately. Avoidable blindness is a key health issue and that is why Africa needs trained sub-specialists to plough services back into their countries.”

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi says the problem facing the health system in South Africa is that there is a shortage of specialists in the public sector. And this, according to Motsoaledi, prevents the poor majority from accessing quality health care.

He said thousands of students in South Africa, who are either having eyesight problems, speech or hearing problems, are struggling with their studies and cannot get urgent help due to the shortage of specialists in the public sector.