To mark World Sight Day and encourage everyone to get their eyes tested, IAPB Global Ambassador Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex visited Perseid School in London, a school that works with children and young people, aged 3-19 who have special educational needs and learning disabilities to see children having their eyes tested.
The Countess of Wessex said, “The key thing I have learnt with all my work from VISION 2020 and IAPB is that the vision sector has really come together over the years, especially for World Sight Day. What is really inspiring to see, is that best practices are so easily shared through IAPB. These best practices can hopefully influence everything else and improve the lives of millions around the world who have poor vision.”
More than three million people will also have their eyes tested this World Sight Day as experts warn that coronavirus and lockdown are causing a global vision crisis. The #LoveYourEyes campaign is run by the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) – the overarching alliance for the global eye health sector.
A growing issue
A recent study found that, in the UK, almost 3,000 people are estimated to have lost vision due to delays in the identification and treatment of eye disease, and 4.3 million fewer people received sight tests in 2020, compared to 2019.
Sight problems more common in children with learning disabilities
The tests witnessed by the Countess of Wessex were provided by SeeAbility, a UK based charity that specialises in supporting people who have learning disabilities or autism, many of whom have sight loss. Children with learning disabilities are 28 times more likely to have a sight problem than other children. Its work has revealed half of children in special schools will have a problem with their vision, yet 44% of them have no history of eye care. The tests carried out are part of the NHS England special schools eye care service. The ambition of NHS England’s Eye Care programme is to eventually improve access to eye care services for all people with a learning disability or who are autistic to enable them to live the lives they want to live.
Tina Harvey, Executive Headteacher, Perseid School said, “Perseid was the very first school to partner with SeeAbility back in 2013. It was ground-breaking at the time to bring full sight tests and glasses dispensing into special schools, now it is multi award winning and the NHS is planning its own programme nationally in all special schools. The difference the project has made to our children is profound – especially for the children who had never had a sight test and were found to need glasses. Many were living their lives in a total blur before. Now those pupils are happier, more able to learn, feel less frustrated and have higher self-esteem. It was a pleasure to speak to Her Royal Highness about the benefits we have seen.”
Lisa Hopkins, Chief Executive, SeeAbility said, “We are thrilled to be supporting this important campaign on World Sight Day. SeeAbility believes no one is ‘too disabled’ for a sight test and that’s why we’ve created a suite of dedicated online eye care resources for people with learning disabilities and their supporters, wherever they are in the world. Thinking creatively about the way eye care services are delivered can mean everyone gets a more equal right to sight, and so in the spirit of the recent UN Resolution on ‘Vision for Everyone’, our eye care programmes aim to address the inequalities in eye care for people with learning disabilities, who are often left behind.”
The #LoveYourEyes campaign, run by IAPB, is taking place today, on World Sight Day (Thursday 14 October). People worldwide are being encouraged to join the three million already taking part and get their sight tested, in a bid to make people aware of their eye health. This will not only make them engaged with their own eye health, but is also an opportunity to build awareness of the 1.1 billion people around the world who live with preventable sight loss but have no access to eye care services.
Peter Holland, CEO of IAPB said “The success of this year’s World Sight Day and our Love Your Eyes campaign has been unparalleled, and I’ve been delighted and proud of what we have done together.
“Every test pledged, every screening held, and every social media message sent has meant that we were able to reach more people than ever before with over 3million pledging to love their eyes. But the scale of the challenge we face is immense. The pandemic struck a massive blow to global eye health, and we must continue to act to save millions from unnecessary blindness”.
WHO backs #LoveYourEyes
The World Health Organization (WHO) is backing the campaign encouraging people to get sight checked and offering advice on how to #LoveYourEyes.
Alarcos Cieza, Unit Head for Vision, Disability and Rehabilitation at the WHO said:
“The last year has been incredibly tough on people, and it has been tough on their eyes too. We have found ourselves spending more time looking at screens, spending less time outside, and we have also had to miss sight check-ups. However, there are a few easy things we can do to show our eyes and our loved ones’ eyes, especially our children’s, some extra care.
“Firstly, book an eye test. Prevention really is better than cure and an eye test often helps detect issues (beyond just your eyesight) before you may notice them yourself.
Secondly, follow the 20-20-20 rule. This means taking a 20-second break to view something 20 feet away every 20 minutes when using devices.
“Thirdly, encourage your child (children) to play outside regularly and spend at least 90 minutes each day outside. This will give your child a screen break and allow them to focus on different distances and spend time in natural light which can help keep your child’s eyes healthy.
“Finally, it is important to wear your glasses as instructed by your eye health professional. It isn’t true that glasses make your vision worse. They will not only help to see clearly but help prevent eyes from straining to see things.”