Uncorrected refractive error (URE) is the leading cause of visual impairment. It is also the second major cause of blindness and the most common eye disorder in children. All of this despite being an easily treatable (with spectacles) condition. Considering its high prevalence, impact on global economy and the effect on the quality of life (QoL), refractive error has gained priority as a public health concern globally.
In the 2018, RAAB Survey in Bhutan the prevalence of refractive error was 12.8% in the population aged >50 years. In school children, the prevalence was anticipated to be higher.
In view of this, the Primary Eye Care Programme (PECP) in co-ordination with the Department of Ophthalmology, JDWNRH conducted a public health survey on refractive error in school children of Bhutan. The project received generous financial support from the Lions Clubs International (LCIF) and Mission for Vision (MFV) through the International Agency for Prevention of Blindness. Essilor provided free spectacle to all the children requiring glasses in this project. IAPB also provided technical support to carry out this project.
The objective of this project was to estimate the prevalence and causes of vision impairment and associated refractive error. It also included the use of corrective spectacles and providing refraction and optical dispensing services to all the school-going children with visual impairment.
The project had two components:
- Carry out vision assessment and perform refraction and optical dispensing services. This includes the children in informal education and monastic bodies.
- Carry out Refractive Error Study in School children (RESC) in sampled population as per WHO RESC protocol.
The survey was carried out from March 2019-December 2019 in all children enrolled in schools (classes PP –XII) including monastic bodies.
Data was collected for all students and spectacles dispensed for all those in need. The principal cause of impairment for eyes was determined uncorrected VA ≤6/12.
A total of 164,365 (98.8%) out of 166,357 school children and 7059 students of monastic bodies in Bhutan underwent vision assessment and refraction services. Among the examined school-children a total of 19,241 (11.7%) and 876 (12.4%) children at monastic bodies were found vision impaired, with visual acuity of ≤6/12 due to refractive error. The details of RESC part of the study has been submitted for publication in a peer reviewed journal which will be published in IAPB web pages once it is accepted for publication.