One of the main problems that reduces the quality of life for those living in Central Africa is the high recurrence of visual disability. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 284 million people worldwide suffer from visual disabilities. Eliminating preventable blindness is one of three key aims of the WHO 2020 initiative.

A recent study by the Walter Sisulu University in South Africa found that increasing fruit intake, antioxidant supplements, providing education on nutrition, controlling rural-urban migration and reducing oxidative stress all helped improve the quality of vision for many living in the Congo. The lessons learnt can easily translate into other first world countries where we have greater access to fruit and antioxidants as part of a healthy diet.

Central African Study on Visual Impairment

The study group included 150 participants who were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes mellitus, and 50 non-diabetics. Within the group, 8.5% were blind, 20.5% had visual impairment and 29% had visual disability. The study then looked at other factors such as diet, environment and education to ascertain what effect these factors had upon vision health.

Urbanization, lifestyle changes and other factors were all found to contribute to Central Africans having a higher risk of ocular disease associated with oxidative stress and visual disabilities.

The highest risk of visual disability was found in residents in Kinshasa town, where fruit was expensive, compared to those living in rural areas. People who had the lowest intake of safou fruit, which is known to be high in antioxidants and vitamins, were found to be at higher risk of suffering from a visual disability.

Age also was a factor in reducing the levels of nutrients. Older people (60+) are less able to counter harmful free radicals in the body, causing oxidative stress and impaired eyesight. Safou fruits, with their high antioxidant content, reduced the level of free radicals and helped maintain healthy ocular tissue.

Those who had migrated from rural to urban areas subjected their eyes to pollution and had a diet lower in fresh vegetables, fruit and fiber. Low standards of nutritional education also affected the diet in the study participants. For example, green vegetables and cabbages were grown and fed to goats rather than being considered a food for human consumption. Similarly, fruit was considered a food only suitable for children.

The study found a clear correlation between a poor diet, higher levels of oxidative stress and the severity of visual impairment. It concluded that a lack of safou fruit (which was the main source of essential antioxidants), migration from rural to urban areas, low levels of nutritional education and high levels of oxidative stress resulted in higher levels of visual disabilities and continuing deterioration of eyesight.

In conclusion, wherever you live, antioxidant supplements and the reduction of oxidative stress in the body will directly affect and improve visual health for all. Older people in particular need to protect their visual health through a diet high in fruit and vegetables.