UZ study shows most Harare kombi drivers are ‘blind’

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Sifelani Tsiko

HARARE – There is a high incidence of myopia or short – sightedness among most commuter omnibus drivers in Harare something which has resulted motor vehicle accidents, injuries and loss of life, a new study by eye specialists at the University of Zimbabwe Medical School shows.

A study by Dr Douglas Zirima and one A Mukome, both ophthalmologists, which won the Lawrence Levy prize at the 2018 annual Medical Research Day was titled: “Patterns of visual function among commuter omnibus drivers in Harare.”

The research which was done in selected commuter omnibus ranks in the capital, with 140 participants, indicates that the most common eye problem was myopia (9,3 percent).

The results indicated that none of the participants with short – sightedness wore spectacles.

Prevalence of other visual abnormalities included problems related for contrast sensitivity (measure of visual function, especially in situations of low light, fog or glare), stereo acuity (depth perception), visual fields and colour vision respectively.

“This study found significant visual function abnormalities among commuter omnibus drivers included in this study despite all having a medical examination in the preceding year,” the researchers said.

This year’s annual Medical Research Day organised by the UZ Institute of Continuing Health Education was held under the theme: Promoting Health Systems Research for Improvement of Quality of Care in Zimbabwe.”

The researchers warned that some drivers were failing to get their eyes tested regularly putting themselves and others in danger.

Poor vision is estimated to cause numerous casualties on the country’s roads every year.

The eye specialist sought to highlight the importance of good eye health and getting commuter omnibus drivers to have their eyes tested and to reinforce the message that people need to stop driving if their eyesight is deteriorating and cannot be improved by corrective lenses.

“Recommendations to improve this include updating the current driver examination tool to include other important components of vision, interested medical practitioners should undergo training and certification to be able to conduct these examinations properly,” the ophthalmologists noted.

Eye specialists say short – sightedness usually develops in childhood, and occurs when the eye grows excessively long (axial myopia). This results in blurred distant vision that requires correction with glasses, contact lenses or laser-refractive surgery.

Increasing rates of myopia among commuter omnibus drivers are a worrying trend for the future.

Some eye experts say short – sightedness could be due to several factors that may include lengthy period of higher education study, prolonged near work, living in cities, and lack of time spent outdoors.

Safe driving requires interplay of several driver faculties including good visual function, the UZ eye researchers said.

“In Zimbabwe, drivers of public transport vehicles are tested for visual acuity and colour vision only. Vision however comprises five contributing functions – visual acuity, colour vision, contrast sensitivity, visual field and stereopsis.

“All of which can be assumed to have an impact on driving safety under different conditions,” the researchers said.

Zimbabwe road traffic accidents killed five people daily in 2017, according to statistics from the Traffic Safety Council in Zimbabwe (TSCZ).

In that same year, a total of 1 838 deaths were recorded while 10 489 were injured in 42 430 crashes that occurred roughly translating to 153 deaths monthly.

Accidents rose by 10 percent from 2016 figures, which had 38 620 crashes that killed 1 721 travellers.

Unlicensed drivers caused about 475 accidents.

A study by the TSCZ blames human error − not bad roads – as the main cause for road traffic accidents in the country.

There is a significant burden of myopia and poor vision among commuter omnibus drivers and the researchers say they believe that their study will stimulate further studies of the impact of refractive error in the public transport sector.

The defensive driving courses are a positive step towards driver safety but the UZ researchers say undergoing eye examinations should be a compulsory step in obtaining a driving licence for commuter omnibus to enable them to safely transport passengers.

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