UNC Ophthalmology Team First to Describe Glaucoma Incidence in Africa

Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide and affects people of African descent disproportionately. A team of researchers from UNC Ophthalmology has published findings in the March 2019 issue of Ophthalmology demonstrating the highest incidence of glaucoma in the world in Ghana, West Africa.

UNC Ophthalmology Team First to Describe Glaucoma Incidence in Africa click to enlarge Jean-Claude Mwanza; Maureen Armah; Francis Bottey; Samantha Tulenkoe

Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide and affects people of African Descent disproportionately. A team of researchers from UNC Ophthalmology has published findings in the March 2019 issue of Ophthalmology demonstrating the highest incidence of glaucoma in the world in Ghana, West Africa.

Led by Ophthalmology chair Don Budenz, MD, MPH, and Jean-Claude Mwanza, MD, PhD, investigators re-examined 1,200 subjects originally seen in 2006 – 2008 residing in urban West Africa. They determined that this population has the highest incidence (new cases per year) of glaucoma globally.

When asked why this might be the case, Dr. Budenz said, “Glaucoma is primarily an inherited disease and people of African descent have been known to have a higher prevalence of glaucoma world-wide. So we believe the genetics of the disease and the lack of admixture of genetic material in the West African population is causing the high incidence of glaucoma in the world.”

The study included a gene identification ancillary study where investigators contributed the largest database of genetic material for analysis in eye disease from any African people group. Collaborators at Duke have combined the Ghana genetic material with that of other regional studies and are working on identifying the genes responsible for this blinding disease.

“One of the astounding findings of our research,” Budenz stated, “is that fewer than 5% of subjects with glaucoma in Ghana knew that they had the disease prior to the study. The reasons involve lack of screening and poor access to routine eye exams by the healthcare system. Our future research is focusing on screening in the community and getting people to eye care providers to prevent vision loss.”


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