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“I am self-conscious because I can’t see myself in the mirror. It’s blurry and I don’t know how I look. I don’t want anyone else to see me.” -Amelia, United States
Eight-year-old Amelia, along with 312 million other children and adolescents worldwide, need only a pair of prescription glasses in order to regain full visual capacity (World Health Organization, 2019). With these glasses, students are empowered to succeed in school, develop necessary social and professional skills, and can realise their full potential.
CharityVision International is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving vision and addressing curable blindness in 26 low-income countries around the world. By providing local doctors and clinics with needed supplies and sustainable solutions, CharityVision has improved sight in over 2 million individuals since it was founded thirty years ago.
In the United States, CharityVision has successfully implemented a SightBuddies programme to provide screenings and prescription glasses for children (ages 6-18) from low-income households. This programme has proven efficient and cost effective as it utilizes local clinics and coordinates efforts between schools and healthcare practitioners. Internationally, CharityVision facilitated over 500,000 screenings in 2020 alone.
A study conducted in China provided free glasses to children in low-income communities and measured the differences in academic achievement. They found the odds of failing a class are reduced by 44% once a child receives glasses with the proper prescription (Hannum, 2012). Additional research indicates that poor vision affects more than just academic achievement. Good visual skills are crucial to child development and acquiring cognitive and functional skills. Low vision is highly correlated with poor sensorial development including delay in motor development, mathematical, social, and problem-solving skills. Moreover, low vision impacts physical, psychological, and social well-being of children as building relationships and engaging in interactive play is hindered (Rainey, 2016).
CharityVision’s SightBuddies programme has received positive feedback from school administrators and nurses as well as from the students themselves. Heather Chatwin, a nurse from the Provo School District, shared, “The kids walk out with their glasses and they can see the leaves and the details they haven’t been able to see. It almost makes you cry every time you see them coming out. It is so rewarding to be a part of it.”
Based on the success of SightBuddies in the U.S. and the immense need for glasses worldwide, CharityVision seeks to expand screenings programmes in international countries. To date, the U.S. SightBuddies programme has provided glasses to over 5,700 students in Utah and California with hopes to expand the programme to Arizona and Texas. Internationally, SightBuddies programmes have been established in Latin America, Pakistan, and Indonesia.
SightBuddies is the most cost-effective, sustainable programme of its kind. While other screening programmes require $25 U.S. dollars or more per person, CharityVision is able to provide screenings for an average of $1.50 per student. This is made possible through CharityVision’s unique local sustainability model, recognized as best practice by the World Health Organization under their Integrated People-Centered Eye Care (IPCEC) approach (W.H.O., 2019).
By working directly with the local schools, eye clinics, and medical supply partners, the SightBuddies model removes the barriers that so often hinder low-income populations from receiving care. Children no longer need to rely on parental availability and work flexibility to take them to the clinics. Parents are shielded from time conflicts and potential social stigma associated with bringing children in for free care. Schools are able to oversee transportation, care, and organization of children throughout the process.
Children are struggling for no reason. With proper funding and support, the expansion of the SightBuddies model to international screening programmes will make a significant impact on bridging the disparity gap for underserved populations, strengthening communities, and stimulating future economic growth.
Atowa, U. C., Hansraj, R., & Wajuihian, S. O. (2019). Visual problems: a review of prevalence
studies on visual impairment in school-age children. International journal of ophthalmology, 12(6), 1037–1043.https://doi.org/10.18240/ijo.2019.06.25
Hannum, E., & Zhang, Y. (2012). Poverty and Proximate Barriers to Learning: Vision
Deficiencies, VisionCorrection and Educational Outcomes in Rural Northwest China. World development, 40(9), 1921–1931. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2012.04.029
Rainey, L., Elsman, E., van Nispen, R., van Leeuwen, L. M., & van Rens, G. (2016).
Comprehending the impact of low vision on the lives of children and adolescents: a qualitative approach. Quality of life research : an international journal of quality of life aspects of treatment, care and rehabilitation, 25(10), 2633–2643. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11136-016-1292-8
World Health Organization. (2019). (rep.). World Report on Vision.