There is indisputable evidence that without significant interventions, our global eye health needs are going to surge. The story is no different for our children. Our recent two webinars on 29 June, ‘2030 in Sight for our Children’, organized as part of the Focus on Child Eye Health programme discussed actions that we need to take now, to meet this growing demand and the changing needs of child eye health.
Why should we discuss Child Eye Health? Globally, at least 450 million children have a sight condition that needs treatment, with 90 million children living with some form of sight loss. The prevalence of vision loss in children varies considerably within, and between countries and regions. And if numbers are not reason enough, a deep dive further points us to how poor vision can contribute to poor educational outcomes, low self-esteem, and significantly impact the future socio-economic potential of the child. With these consequences, where are we at, in providing eyecare to our children? It is estimated that 40% of children living with blindness, are blind from eye conditions that could have been prevented or could be managed if the child had access to eye care services. The alarming prevalence of myopia in children, and the covid 19 impact on school eye health programmes, adds to the urgency for policies and programmes that are informed, innovative, inclusive, and relevant to the region, country, and the child.
Bringing this context to the discussion table, the two webinars had experts presenting examples that created an impact in elevating, integrating, and activating child eye health among the widest of audiences, stakeholders, and beneficiaries. This was then followed by a panel discussion that elicited some clear actions that we can pursue with urgency as a sector to tackle the challenges and create a better future for our children.
- Elevate – Eye health is often not addressed in school health and education policies, plans and practice even when evidence clearly show the cost effectiveness of school-based approaches in multiple settings.
- We need to advocate with evidence and target urgent political prioritization of Child Eye Health in resolutions, national policies and development plans.
- Integrate – Integrated people centered eyecare looks at reorienting the model of care, coordinating services within and across sectors and creating an enabling environment. This is particularly relevant for children considering the critical need for early detection, continuous monitoring, the interface with multiple health systems, and affordability of services.
- We need to ensure that child eye care is well resourced and properly integrated into mainstream health systems. This starts from inclusion in maternal and neonatal policies to school settings and wider health and rehabilitative systems. This also means we need to involve and or train more people on the ground at multiple levels across systems to provide the continuum of services a child will need.
- Activate – Empowering people to demand eye care services by making them more aware of what they can do to look after their own eyes is essential to ensuring access to quality eye care services.
- We need to campaign and promote child eye health to a wider audience that will catalyze individuals to be proactive and demand and seek eyecare when needed. This means an active agenda from national governments and stakeholders on eye health promotion, and availability of effective evidence-based information that is contextual, appropriate, and inclusive.
- Dr Priya Morjaria, Head of Global Programme Design, Peek Vision
- Dr Milka Mafwiri, Associate Professor, Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences
- Dr Andreas Mueller, Consultant, World Health Organization Eye Care Programme
- Elizabeth Kurian, CEO, Mission for Vision
- Dr Jameel Rizwana Hussaindeen, Head of Rivoli Vision Academy, Rivoli Vision
- Prof. Kathryn Saunders, Senior Academic, Ulster University
Watch the recordings here
Special thanks: IAPB School Eye Health Working group
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.
Image on top: Nepali sisters running and playing together share a moment and their smiles with us as we visit their village in the Khumbu Valley of Nepal by Julie-Anne Davies