As eye care professionals, we all know that current efforts to address child eye health needs are falling far too short. Refractive errors, for example, are simple and cost effective to correct yet they continue to negatively effect the lives of millions of children worldwide.
There are a number of reasons why care is often unavailable or inaccessible – the small number of skilled heath care professionals, an uneven distribution of resources, or a lack in confidence to be a proactive provider of care. One of these factors is enough to disrupt effective care to children; in many places, we are finding all three.
But on World Optometry Day, I am encouraged that as optometrists and as eye care professionals, we have the knowledge and expertise to create a huge impact – on policies, economies and on lives.
For example, school health programmes are revolutionizing the approach to child health care worldwide. If we can integrate eye health into already existing systems, then we will be able to reach more children than ever before. Simply adding a service to an already strong health programme can pay huge dividends.
In Pakistan, the school based approach to providing eye care has been a great success. The Brien Holden Vision Institute, along with the governments of Azad Jammu and Kashmir are implementing a school eye-health programme. An optometrist from the district hospital trains school teachers in screening their wards. Children with vision issues are identified and referred to the optometrist, who undertakes the refraction, prescribing and dispensing the spectacles to children at the school itself. Using existing infrastructure within the schools and the eye department, this approach provides eye health services to thousands of children enrolled in the public education system. While children are the main beneficiaries of the programme, teachers also get their eyes tested and those who need are provided with near vision glasses.
It is thinking like this that will help propel optometry, and eye care, into other health streams and ensure more children receive comprehensive care. It allows health providers to stretch their minimal resources to reach maximum numbers. Offering eye health services alongside dental, nutrition and worming checks seems like a no brainer.
Another no brainer, is working together to achieve more. Our Children’s Vision is bringing together over 60 organisations across 30 countries, under one common goal – eye care for all children. The belief is that no child’s education should be compromised simply because they cannot access an eye exam and a pair of glasses. The mission is so much more than reaching 50 million children by 2020. We want to impact policy, create waves. Make governments stand up and take notice that eye care is important – it is worth investing in.
If we are to make great strides, we need to act now. Myopia is a major public health issue predicted to only surge in scale, with 90 to 95% of vision impairment in the 5-15 age groups.
Today is a day for all optometrists to reflect on the impact that they can have. How can we reach more patients, more efficiently, more cost effectively? It is important, because there are children who cannot access a simple eye exam, and we all know the consequences of that.
Hasan Minto is the Director of Child Eye health and Low vision Programmes at the Brien Holden Vision Institute. He is also Director of Programmes for Our Children’s Vision.
For those interested in school eye health programmes, and how to best establish them, please download the Standard Guidelines for Comprehensive School Eye Health Programmes. To learn more about Our Children’s Vision visit www.ourchildrensvision.org .
The link to download the Standard Guidelines for Comprehensive School Eye Health Programmes is as follows https://academy.brienholdenvision.org/courses/school-eye-health
Photos courtesy: The Brien Holden Vision Institute
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