Govt’s eye clinics record 30% spike in patients as haze worsens

by ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN/ pic by RAZAK GHAZALI

SCORES of government eye clinics nationwide are seeing more patients within the past month as haze worsens across the country.

National head of ophthalmology services Dr Nor Fariza Ngah said a total of 42 eye clinics operating under the Health Ministry reported a 20%-30% increase in outpatient visits daily on average.

Citing Hospital Shah Alam as a reference, she said this translated to an additional of 40 patients per day.

“There has been a spike in ophthalmology services rendered to the public and most of the cases are related to allergic conjunctivitis. It is non-infectious, but causes irritation to the patient as the eyes become red, itchy and watery.

“It is a big leap (in number of patients), but we are prepared to give the necessary treatment. This is the cycle every year, so we are ready to manage the situation,” Dr Nor Fariza told reporters after the launch of the first World Patient Safety Day and Patient Safety Seminar in Putrajaya yesterday.

Dr Nor Fariza, who is also department head at Hospital Shah Alam, advised those who are asthmatic to seek early treatment at hospitals instead of resorting to over-the-counter products.

“Artificial tears could help, but if you buy the wrong one, it could cause allergies,” she said.

Dr Nor Fariza said there could be a spike in other respiratory-related illnesses as well due to the hazardous smoke, but could not provide official figures.

She added that the eye infection cases were not age-specific, as patients involved both children and adults.

“I can only answer for eye clinics, but I’m sure (there is a rise in respiratory cases) because this situation is more prone with those with asthma, so they would typically face complications,” she said.

Over the last few weeks, Malaysia and several other countries in South-East Asia have suffered from smog caused by slash-and-burn practices in Indonesia — an annual practice by farmers clearing land for palm oil and pulp plantations.

The government has initiated multiple cloud seeding efforts over targeted areas in the last few days as hazy conditions continue to persist.

In Sarawak, Johor, Putrajaya and Selangor, schools have been forced to close as air quality reached unhealthy levels.

Flights have also been cancelled and diverted due to low visibility.

The Air Pollution Index (API) in the administrative capital went as high as 205 yesterday. In Selangor, the API ranged from 109 in Kuala Selangor to 234 in Johan Setia.

Over in Sarawak, the API was as high as 229 in Miri, with readings expected to hit 377 in Samarahan today.

An API reading of between zero and 50 is “Good”; 51 to 100 is “Moderate”; 101 to 200 is “Unhealthy”; 201 to 300 is “Very Unhealthy”; and 301 and above is considered “Hazardous”.

Malaysia and Indonesia have traded blame on the haze situation with Kuala Lumpur offering help to put out the forest fires.

Singapore’s Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources has also offered technical firefighting assistance to Indonesia and is prepared to deploy resources if requested.