Seven people go blind in Zanzibar after using traditional remedies to treat 'red eyes'

Unguja. At least seven people have gone blind in Zanzibar after suffering from Red eyes disease which outbreak was reported in the middle of last month.

The coordinator of basic health services for eye treatment in Zanzibar, Dr Rajab Muhammed Hilali, said on Wednesday February 7, 2024 that over 12,860 people have contracted the disease in the islands, some having recovered while others are continuing to receive treatment.

The outbreak of the viral disease was reported in Dar es Salaam mid-January and by the end of the month it had spread to 17 other regions of both the mainland and Zanzibar.

According to Dr Hilali, the victims developed blindness due to the use of traditional remedies to treat the disease.

He said that many people go to hospital while they have already been overwhelmed by the disease after using wrong remedies without the guidance of health professionals.

"For those patients who have gone blind, when asked, everyone said they were using traditional remedies, salt and other things that have had an effect on their eyes," he said.

He said among the people who got blind is an 11-year-old child, whose right eye was affected and they made efforts to send him to CCBRT to save it, but it was discovered that it could not return to the normal state.

The head of the Health Education Unit of the Ministry of Health, Dr Bakar Hamad Madarawa, said there are many people affected by the red eye disease but have not gone to hospital for treatment.

He said the number of people reporting to health centres is about 20 percent of the affected while the remaining 80 percent of the affected are yet to go for treatment.

"In government health centres, we have 20 percent of those affected, but 80 percent are still there suffering as there are many patients and currently every family has at least one patient. Let's continue to provide education," he said.

Since the outbreak of the Red eyes disease, there have been several myths about the disease treatment, including those which are not recommended by health professionals.

Some people have been using traditional treatment such as mixing warm water with salt or dissolving soap in water and drop the solution on the affected eyes.

Others have also been buying eye drops containing antibiotics from pharmacies without the prescription by a doctor.

The Pharmacy Council of Tanzania on Tuesday warned of the arbitrary use of the medicines, asking pharmacy operators to follow the medical prescription procedures.

“After the outbreak of the Red eyes disease, we have been doing mystery shopping to see if the health guidelines and procedures were being followed by pharmacy operators,” said the agency in a statement.

“We have discovered that some pharmacies are providing the eye drops containing antibiotics without even prescription by a doctor,” it stated, urging the retail outlets to immediately stop doing that.

Meanwhile, at least 47 people died of malaria last year while 23,474 others continue to suffer from the disease in Zanzibar.

Public health officer at the Ministry of Health in Zanzibar, Mr Mwinyi Khamis, said that the number of malaria patients increased by 90 percent in all 11 districts of Unguja and Pemba regions last year.

"Malaria has resurfaced in Zanzibar, so we are supposed to be very careful about the disease and take measures to control it," he cautioned.

Initially, he said the disease seemed to have affected people living in urban areas but now even those living in the peripheral areas had been seen suffering from the disease.

He said for now mosquitoes seemed to have changed their behavior, moving from inside to outside and attack people with mosquito nets being said to be underused despite the government's efforts to distributing them to all households for free.