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Good vision is critical to childhood development and education
Eye disorders are one of the most common long-term health problems experienced by Australian children. Vision problems in children affect early literacy, and are linked to significantly lower academic scores. Good vision means children can readily access educational materials and fully participate in learning.
Ensuring children have healthy eyes and vision helps them to develop social skills and participate fully in education, sports and activities. All of the things that children can and need to do to grow up as well-rounded, engaged individuals. This is not only good for the individual, worthy in and of itself, but also benefits communities and economies, with evidence suggesting a strong correlation between good vision and a country’s overall academic performance and economic growth.
Proactive measures, such as pre-school vision screening programs or access to comprehensive eye examinations are critical in detecting and addressing eye health and vision problems. Children in particular may exhibit few symptoms and are unlikely to complain about the inability to see. When a problem is detected early, a timely referral can be made to ensure appropriate management of eye health and vision problems.
The importance of early detection is widely recognised yet vision screening programs for pre-school children in Australia vary widely between jurisdictions, resulting in unequal access and health and learning outcomes for Australian children.
Australia is part of a federated system that consists of six states and two territories. It is a mixed system of government that combines a “federal” government with state administrations in a single political system, with powers divided between the two. Each state and territory has its own legislature, although the federal government can override any territorial legislation.
This is why Vision 2020 Australia and its members developed a National Children’s Vision Framework. To help achieve greater equity in eye health for all children regardless of their socioeconomic position, cultural background, or location. To set children up for life. To provide that flow on to academic performance and economic growth.
We are seeking leadership and commitment from the Australian Government to adopt a National Framework for Vision Screening for 3.5-5 year-old children in the upcoming Federal election. Our federated structure means that vision screening programs for pre-school children is variable. This is where the Children’s Vision Framework comes in. We want to see children, regardless of which state/territory they live in have access to screening programs that ensure the same result. National leadership through the Federal Government is critical. The challenge is how we standardize and improve vision screening programs across Australia, while acknowledging the need of state & territory Governments to contextualise it to their own health settings.
A national framework, operating effectively within the State/Territory system, is the best way to reduce the risk of permanent vision loss in children and give them the best chance to learn and succeed in life. Detecting vision problems in this age cohort is ideal, as sight can be screened reliably, and vision problems can be identified and treated prior to the commencement of school.
The National Framework was developed in consultation with a consortium of children’s eye health experts and leaders and is strongly supported by the Australian eye care sector. Its main objective of helping to ‘facilitate universal access to integrated people-centred eye care for Australian children’ aligns with the World Health Assembly’s 2020 resolution on eye health and the United Nations resolution on ‘Vision for Everyone: accelerating action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals’. The Framework also draws on available evidence from local screening programs and protocols, such as the New South Wales Statewide Eyesight Preschool Screening Program (StEPS).
The National Framework for Vision Screening for 3.5-5 year-old children will benefit every Australian child and every Australian family that has a child. And as a result it will help the broader community and economy. It just makes good sense.
Further information about the National Framework for Children’s Vision Screening can be found here – Setting Australia’s Sights – 2022 Federal Election – Vision 2020 Australia
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 Integrated Care Strategy (2018), Evaluation of the Statewide Eyesight Preschooler Program (StEPS) Final Report, New South Wales Government, accessed 16 August 2021
As part of Focus on Child Eye Health, a piece by Vision 2020 Australia on their work to achieve equity in child eye health. 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.