Children’s vision – progress is being made.
By: Courtenay Holden, Marketing and Communications Manager, Our Children’s Vision and Stephen Davis, Communications Manager, Brien Holden Vision Institute
Millions of children, in all regions and of all ages, are affected by eye disease and vision threatening conditions – and there are clear indications that the numbers will only continue to increase. As with other major public health challenges, such as dental, healthy eating and exercise, good eye health habits can stand children in good stead for the rest of their lives.
However, for millions of children there are a myriad of obstacles to achieving healthy, clear vision. For some, it can be as simple as not recognising that their vision is blurry and for others it can be as complicated as accessing services hundreds of kilometres away at significant cost to their families.
On the other hand, much is being done. Organisations are coming together via the Our Children’s Vision campaign to reach more children than even before. Work is being done to develop interventions and systems that provide opportunities to check children’s vision and eye health. Researchers are beginning to quantify the real education, social and economic impact vision impairment can have on a child, and their families. In addition, myopia is being recognised as a public health issue that can no longer be ignored.
Progress is being made.
The vision of 50 million children
In two years, through hard work and a vast network of partners, over 22 million children have been reached.
The numbers are big, reaching over 22 million children is no mean feat. When Our Children’s Vision hit the 10 million target in less than a year, it was certainly cause for celebration and an indicator that the campaign was onto something big. But with vision impairment remaining the world’s largest disability, these successes are only the first step and not the finish line.
With the support of the international optometry agency, the World Council of Optometry , Our Children’s Vision is well placed to generate industry-wide commitment for a campaign that elevates vision impairment among children to the level of other important health issues that can significantly affect growth and development, and opportunities later in life.
Dr. Scott Mundle, President of the World Council of Optometry said of the campaign, “What better legacy than joining the growing group of organisations working together to ensure all children have access to eye health services? I cannot think of one that will have more impact or one that will pay more dividends now and long into the future.”
Unique opportunities and deeper understanding
Reaching children with eye health services is a major challenge; however, school health programs provide a unique opportunity to ensure over 700 million children receive the eye care they need.
Our Children’s Vision global supporter, the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) is backing efforts to ensure that child eye health ceases to be another overlooked public health issue. Through the adoption of the Standard School Eye Health Guidelines for Low to Middle Income Countries, the IAPB and its partners aim to standardize the quality of care children receive.
Hasan Minto, guidelines contributing author and Director of Programs for the Brien Holden Vision Institute and Our Children’s Vision said, “these guidelines will provide policy makers, health care and educational authorities, eye care delivery organisations and professionals with the knowledge to embed eye health into broader school health systems. We are certain that when people have this tool they will be able to confidently implement school eye-care programs or expand their existing programs. Which means more children will receive eye care.”
In addition to the adoption of the guidelines, the IAPB has established a School Eye Health Working Group. Made up of thought leaders, development experts, movers and shakers, the group is scrutinizing the opportunities and challenges of providing eye care to school aged children and determine best practices for the integration of eye health within existing school health interventions.
The intention is to get to a place where all children attending school receive not just care, but the same standard of care. Whether a child is in a private school in Johannesburg, or a government school in Brooklyn, they are getting the same reliable school eye health services.
Transferring knowledge for greater health outcomes
Health promotion in schools has been shown to be an effective way to improve eye care outcomes in children.
Our Children’s Vision co-founder, the Brien Holden Vision Institute, found that children who participated in eye health promotion activities in several schools in Vietnam were more likely to understand eye disease and actions that could cause harm to their vision.1 Those same children were also more likely to have an eye examination.
Approximately, two-thirds of children in Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu province, Vietnam, with vision impairment have never received spectacles or do not wear them. Generally, school eye care programs focus on vision screening, refractive error correction, wearing glasses and prevention of disease like trachoma. Yet it has been suggested that eye health knowledge is critical to ensuring ongoing utilisation of eye care services.
An urgent focus
Children rarely complain about their eyesight, as they may not be aware of what they should be able to see. This makes it all the more important for initiatives like Our Children’s Vision to push for regular vision checks for children – their health and prospects in life may be significantly altered if they are left with undetected or uncorrected vision problems. Millions of children are depending on our efforts to radically upgrade services and raise public health awareness.
There has never been a more pressing time. With projections that half the world will be myopic by 2050 and around 1 billion people in the high myopia category2, we have a looming public health crisis that will cause unprecedented levels of vision impairment, put a massive strain on health services and threaten economic productivity.
Nicola Chevis, CEO for Vision Aid Overseas said, “Eye health has the potential to become one of the largest health interventions in modern history. We are at a point where no country can afford to leave anyone behind. The impact uncorrected vision impairment has on not only individuals, but economies is profound. The global economy loses US$202 billion in productivity each year because of uncorrected vision impairment3. This is astonishing because restoring someone’s sight is one of the most cost-effective health interventions to reduce poverty.4”
Kovin Naidoo, CEO for the Brien Holden Vision Institute and Global Director of Our Children’s Vision added, “Our generation must recognise child eye health as fundamental to the future of our children. We need to engage with patients, parents, children, policy makers – and collectively, through local and global efforts, draw attention to this issue and bring about action. Progress is being made; together we are meeting challenges and overcoming obstacles. Because at the end of the day – vision matters.”
Article originally published by Eyezone. Eyezone is a proud supporter of Our Children’s Vision.
- Paudel P, Yen PT, Kovai V, Naduvilath T, Ho SM, Giap NV and Holden BA. Effect of school eye health promotion on children’s eye health literacy in Vietnam, Health Promotion International, 2017, 1–10, doi: 10.1093/heapro/dax065
- Holden BA, Fricke TR, Wilson DA, Jong M, Naidoo KS, Sankaridurg P, Wong TY, Naduvilath TJ, Resnikoff S, Global Prevalence of Myopia and High Myopia and Temporal Trends from 2000 through 2050, Ophthalmology, May 2016 Volume 123, Issue 5, Pages 1036–1042.
- Smith TST, Frick KD, Holden BA, Fricke TR, Naidoo KS, ‘Potential lost productivity resulting from the global burden of uncorrected refractive error’ in Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 2009; 87.
- World Health Organization. (2007). Global initiative for the elimination of avoidable blindness. Action plan 2006-2011. http://www.who.int/blindness/Vision2020_report.pdf