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Open Access Research article

Traditional eye medicine use by newly presenting ophthalmic patients to a teaching hospital in south-eastern Nigeria: socio-demographic and clinical correlates

Boniface Ikenna Eze*, Chimdi Memnofu Chuka-Okosa and Judith Nkechi Uche

Author Affiliations

Department of Ophthalmology, University of Nigerian Teaching Hospital (UNTH), PMB 01129, Ituku-Ozalla, Enugu, Nigeria

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2009, 9:40  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-9-40

Published: 24 October 2009



This study set out to determine the incidence, socio-demographic, and clinical correlates of Traditional Eye Medicine (TEM) use in a population of newly presenting ophthalmic outpatients attending a tertiary eye care centre in south-eastern Nigeria.


In a comparative cross-sectional survey at the eye clinic of the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Enugu, between August 2004 - July 2006, all newly presenting ophthalmic outpatients were recruited. Participants' socio-demographic and clinical data and profile of TEM use were obtained from history and examination of each participant and entered into a pretested questionnaire and proforma. Participants were subsequently categorized into TEM- users and non-users; intra-group analysis yielded proportions, frequencies, and percentages while chi-square test was used for inter-group comparisons at P = 0.01, df = 1.


Of the 2,542 (males, 48.1%; females, 51.9%) participants, 149 (5.9%) (males, 45%; females, 55%) used TEM for their current eye disease. The TEMs used were chemical substances (57.7%), plant products (37.7%), and animal products (4.7%). They were more often prescribed by non-traditional (66.4%) than traditional (36.9%) medicine practitioners. TEMs were used on account of vision loss (58.5%), ocular itching (25.4%) and eye discharge (3.8%). Reported efficacy from previous users (67.1%) and belief in potency (28.2%) were the main reasons for using TEM. Civil servants (20.1%), farmers (17.7%), and traders (14.1%) were the leading users of TEM. TEM use was significantly associated with younger age (p < 0.01), being married (p < 0.01), rural residence (p < 0.01), ocular anterior segment disease (p < 0.01), delayed presentation (p < 0.01), low presenting visual acuity (p < 0.01), and co-morbid chronic medical disease (p < 0.01), but not with gender (p = 0.157), and educational status (p = 0.115).


The incidence of TEM use among new ophthalmic outpatients at UNTH is low. The reasons for TEM use are amenable to positive change through enhanced delivery of promotive, preventive, and curative public eye care services. This has implications for eye care planners and implementers. To reverse the trend, we suggest strengthening of eye care programmes, even distribution of eye care resources, active collaboration with orthodox eye care providers and traditional medical practitioners, and intensification of research efforts into the pharmacology of TEMs.