Children’s education around the world has undergone the most significant impact ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With enforced school closures resulting in cancelled lessons, an overall reduction in teaching time, and prolonged periods of remote and online courses, the school experience has drastically changed over the past two years. It’s not hard to recognise the limited access to formal education that the pandemic has brought on.
Unforeseen lockdowns also meant an overall lack of social interaction, with many countries limiting time spent outdoors. This significant change to children’s lifestyles led to increased screen time and less time spent outdoors, creating the perfect ‘myopigenic environment.’ As such, the pandemic has contributed to the increased prevalence of myopia (near-sightedness) in children. Over the last 30 years, much more has become known about the development of myopia, including its long-term implications. These include retinal detachment and myopic maculopathy (a disease purely caused by myopia) that can lead to significant vision loss or even blindness later in life—which will be more impactful in the future with longer life expectancy.
Evidence comparing children’s visual development before and during the pandemic through school vision screenings in China has shown how those in their early years of education had a higher, more severe level of myopia, with the youngest children being impacted the most.
As children have now returned to the classroom, there’s concern for those who have myopia, but have not had it properly diagnosed. Not being able to see clearly in the classroom is linked strongly to underperforming in education and is a clear hindrance to effective learning. In addition, other significant eye conditions like amblyopia or strabismus can—and may have gone undiagnosed during a time where vision screenings were being missed with schooling being done remotely.
During the pandemic, we saw communities around the world supporting one another as we all learned to cope with the unprecedented changes brought on by COVID-19. Volunteers supported those in need and communities aided the roll out of vaccination programs around the world. As we now move to the next stage of living with COVID, we need to focus on helping the children whose education has been impacted and ensure they are able to see as well as they can by providing the right vision correction to maximise their potential.
During Myopia Awareness Week, our goals are to increase awareness of the importance of regular vision screenings, particularly in children who will be experiencing the most change in their vision, as well as an understanding of the options that are available for eye care professionals to help slow the progression of myopia. For everyone in the eye care community, this week provides an additional opportunity to step up and commit to offering their expertise by vision screening a class, a school year, or the whole local school to help all children realise their full potential.
As part of Focus on Child Eye Health, a piece by CooperVision for Myopia Awareness Week. Focus on Child Eye Health engages some of the world’s best and brightest thought leaders throughout the year to share knowledge, inspire action, discuss ideas and push Child Eye Health to the forefront of pressing development issues. It is supported by CooperVision.