School health programmes are a unique opportunity to provide comprehensive eye health services to potentially more than 700 million children throughout the world. Access to eye care for an increasing number of school age children is critically important for at least four reasons:
First, it is a golden opportunity to deliver eye health education messages ranging from hygiene to healthy diet and outdoor activities to prevent trachoma, vitamin A deficiency, diabetes and high myopia.
Second, early detection and referral of children with eye problems is key to timely provision of highly cost effective interventions such as provision of glasses. School-based screening programs allow early detection of conditions that cannot be cured but require appropriate low vision services. These include inclusive education, to ensure that each and every child can achieve his or her full potential. This further contributes to the social and economic development at individual and community level.
Third, irritated, sore, light sensitive eyes significantly impede children’s ability to learn and may lead to the use of harmful practices, which can further damage the eyes. In some areas, eye morbidity represents a significant cause of school dropout. The detection and treatment of common eye conditions, such as conjunctivitis and lid infections are a critical part of child-centred comprehensive school health programs.
Fourth, considering that 80% (estimate) of what a child learns is processed through the visual system, good vision is critical to the child’s ability to participate in and benefit from educational experiences.
Because of the outstanding experience of the authors – as a team they cover the whole spectrum of eye health – these guidelines for school eye health programmes provide not only a very comprehensive approach to school eye health but also some practical keys to integrate it into general health policies and programmes.