Vision Aid Overseas has successfully completed a School Based Eye Health (SBEH) pilot in the Kafue District of Zambia. 

If you support our work chances are you wear glasses or someone close to you does. If that’s the case, then you know the difference it makes to be able to see clearly. Can you imagine what life would be like without glasses at school? 

Child eye health is critically important as 80% of what a child learns is processed visually. If children cannot see clearly it can negatively impact their daily life, learning, self-confidence, and their plans for the future. 

Uncorrected refractive error (URE) is the most common treatable cause of visual impairment in children. The World Health Organization states prevalence rates of URE among children aged 5 to 14 to be 0.96%, as such we estimate that there are potentially at least 50,000 children in Zambia who need glasses.

In Zambia, the government has set out a plan to address child eye health. The Zambian National Eye Health Strategic Plan identifies the need to build the capacity of teachers in schools to test a child’s vision and identify common eye conditions. This is especially important as current eye health services are limited to hospital provision in urban centres, meaning many children in rural areas do not have access to eye care or spectacles. 

To respond to this, Vision Aid Overseas Zambia, in partnership with the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Ministry of General Education (MOGE) has developed a National School Screening Eye Health Protocol.

A pilot project was conducted in one district of Zambia to test the protocol in terms of its effectiveness in identifying and treating eye health problems among children.

What happened?

The pilot took place in the Kafue District, between June to December 2019. Vision Aid Overseas worked with the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of General Education, and local community groups and leaders to carry out the pilot across all primary schools in the district.

Once teachers were trained to screen for eye problems, a Mobile Eye Clinic team visited each school to treat the children identified, and where necessary, further referrals were made to for treatment at a hospital.

One teacher who was trained was Beauty, a grade 7 primary school teacher. Before the training she knew very little about eye health. However, she did notice that some of her students had painful, itchy eyes and, as a result, struggled with their reading and writing in class. After the training and screening she found students stopped having eye problems and their performance at school improved. She also said of the training that it: “gave me a feeling that... as a teacher, I am able to learn and do anything”.

To read more of Beauty’s story click here

What were the results? 

As a result of the pilot, 154 teachers were trained across 73 schools. The teachers screened 18,713 children and found 5,958 had potential eye problems and were seen by the Mobile Eye Clinic teams.

Thanks to the project, we were able to provide 621 pairs of glasses to correct refractive error and provide eye medication to 3,894 children with eye infections. A further 60 were referred to hospitals for more thorough examination, and in some cases, surgery.

Under the pilot we also held information sessions for the parents and other community groups to improve understanding around the benefits of good eye health and encourage better eye health seeking behaviour. Raising awareness of eye health and the need to wear glasses among teachers, parents and children, reduces the stigma of spectacle wearing and promotes early detection and treatment of other childhood eye conditions.

What is next?

Vision Aid Overseas is now in discussions with the MOH and MOGE about how to scale up the SBEH programmes nationally across Zambia, to ensure all children have access to good vision and eye health.

We are using the learning generated from this pilot to develop national guidelines for all school eye health programmes in Zambia, and we will continue to work with the MOH, the MOGE and other partners, to scale these services up throughout the country by integrating them into the school health programme. 

We are also working with community groups and primary healthcare workers to understand how children who are not in school can be screened and treated under the programme.

Thank you

We would also like to say a HUGE thank you to Specsavers for their support of our work in Zambia and making this SBEH programme possible.

If you want to support similar work in schools in Ethiopia, check out our Support A School appeal.