As schools re-open in Sierra Leone, after temporarily closing due to Covid-19, our school eye health work will also be restarting.

Though progress was slowed due to Covid-19, the programme has already trained 158 teachers in vision screening and run 46 mobile eye clinic sessions in schools, seeing 256 children. Frames and lenses have also been supplied to the Kenema Vision Centre, thanks to Essilor and USAID, and are being used locally.

One school child who has benefited from this work is Isatu, a schoolgirl from the Kenema district of Sierra Leone.

Isatu was struggling with school work as her eye sight worsened, but thankfully her teacher had been trained in vision screening, and was able to refer her to a visiting eye health team.

“I was also exited for the first time I got my glasses because, I think it is going to be of use to me in my studies and many other related activities.”

To read more about Isatu’s story click here.

 

This programme, made possible by the generous support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), started in late 2019 and will run for two years.

The aim of the work is to train teachers in vision screening and eye care, and to provide eye care and glasses to children and teachers who need them. The programme will also raise awareness about eye health and the need for glasses, as well as strengthening the local eye health services. This approach will embed eye care skills and knowledge in the community, and by improving health care systems, it will create long lasting, sustainable solutions.

Over the two years of the programme our goals are to reach 159 rural schools, train 988 teachers and 44,000 children with improved eye health in Kenema district of the Eastern Province.

 

80% of what a child learns is processed through the visual system and yet 12 million children worldwide struggle to learn simply because they need glasses.

If school aged children with vision impairments do not get the eye care they need they can experience lower levels of educational achievement and self-esteem, than their normally sighted peers.

According to the World Bank “a simple and low-cost solution for most children with visual impairment is to provide eyeglasses through school eye health programs”.

From similar school-based work in Ethiopia we found that 73% of children who received treatment in the form of glasses or minor surgery showed improvements in their school performance.

This work is needed in Sierra Leone as the numbers of qualified eye health staff to the size of the population is very low, only four qualified optometrists and 10 optometry technicians for a population of over seven million people, and historically investment in eye health has been a low priority.

Now, however, we are working in partnership with local government and health services and as schools re-open we can continue with the programme.

Our next steps will be to keep working with community groups and leaders to raise awareness about eye health and glasses. Teachers will continue screening children to detect vision problems and mobile eye health units will continue outreach work to participating schools. We are also delivering skills-based training to the Optometry Technicians to support them in their role as a critical part of the Mobile Eye Clinic teams.

 

To find out more about our school based eye health work please click here, and to find out more about our work in Sierra Leone please click here.