Right now, 12 million children worldwide struggle to learn because they struggle to see. One solution is to provide school-based eye health programmes, which we have successfully piloted in Zambia with support from our good friends Specsavers and Essilor.

Zambia has 44 qualified optometrists for a population of 17 million people and an estimated 6,700 Zambian children suffer from childhood blindness, many of which are as a result of a refractive error.

To meet the need of children in Zambia, we have worked in partnership with the Zambian Ministries of Health and General Education, and developed a new ‘National School Screening Eye Health Protocol’.

The pilot, which took part in the Kafue district in the centre of Zambia, aimed to identify children with uncorrected refractive error and other eye conditions.

Teachers were trained to carry out basic eye screening, which was followed up with visits from a mobile eye health team, to prescribe glasses, medication, and further referrals for treatment if needed. The screening involved testing visual acuity and recognising common eye health issues, such as conjunctivitis. All teachers were equipped with Snellen charts, pen torches and other tools needed to carry out the screening.

During the pilot, 151 teachers were trained, across 74 schools, and over 19,900 children were screened.

Mr Mwale, a Grade 7 English teacher, said that they have many students with eye problems, all of whom want to sit at the front of the class to see better, but they do not have enough space for them all. Once trained, Mr Mwale was able to screen 280 students for the pilot.

Manna, 15 years old and in grade 10, had struggled to see clearly from a very young age. To cope at school Manna would sit as close as possible to the board so she wouldn’t miss anything. Manna was really pleased when she heard there would be eye screening at her school.

Manna said:

“I am happy to receive the glasses and am going to use them so that I can see well”.

Now Manna is able to see clearly and read the board at school without difficulties.

 

Making sure children can see clearly is essential for their education and future. Children with poor vision are less likely to: perform well at school, be literate and enrol at school.

A study from the World Bank, released last December, stated that: “The negative effects associated with vision impairment are substantial and can be as large as the negative effects caused by socio-economic disadvantage.”

Quentin Wodon, lead economist and co-author of the study, said: “A simple and low-cost solution for most children with visual impairment is to provide eyeglasses through school eye health programs.”

We know that every child has a right to an education which is why we are already working in schools across Africa.

Our work in Zambia will continue to expand across more schools in Kafue district, in the centre of Zambia.

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