Although children account for less than 4% of the number of blind people worldwide, their burden of blindness is proportionately much greater, as up to half of them may die within the 2-3 years following their becoming blind.
Moreover, the fact that a child, who is blind may live for up to 50 years with this disability justifies the setting up of an aggressive strategy that looks for, and brings children to the Eye Centre, at a time when they can still helped optimally.
Similarly, up to 90% of visually impaired children in developing countries are deprived of schooling due to socioeconomic and physical barriers. This was confirmed in a study conducted in 2006 in the North West Region of Cameroon, where only 10% of visually impaired children were attending school.
Finally, the vicious cycle between poverty and visual disability is well recognised. Fighting visual disability, therefore, especially in women and children is a contribution to fighting poverty, in line with Millennium Development Goals 2 and 3
Eye Health: only one component of a Global Child Survival Strategy
While due emphasis is put on eye health in this section, it is important to bear in mind that the development of child eye health must go hand in hand and work as collaboratively as possible with other programmes aimed at improving overall child survival: School Health, Nutrition, Expanded Immunisation (EPI), Integrated Management of Chilhood Illnesses (IMCI) programmes .
Some key eye health activities supported (or to be supported) by our organisation
1. Early detection of visual impairment and causes of blindness
To be truly effective, this must entail the following:
Mapping out as comprehensively as possible, the various places where children usually go whenever they have a health problem (health posts, under-five clinics, etc);
Creating and maintaining a network of partners, from the community to the Eye Centre, where selected staff members will be trained and empowered to detect and refer all children needing urgent attention
2. Long-term follow up of postoperative cases
Unlike what avails in the adult, sight restoring surgery in children often requires years of close follow up, another area where the network of partners mentioned above may play a critical role. This is particularly true for those children who despite excellent surgery and good follow up may still end up visually disabled and as result, require low vision devices.
3. School Eye Health
In the developing world, more than anywhere else, good education has proven to be a sure path out of poverty, and optimal vision during those early formative years is one major contributor to it. Hence the importance of ensuring that all children are visually assessed as they start school and regularly thereafter, and that those who need glasses have access to affordable or highly subsidized pair of spectacles.
4. Close collaboration with other Child Health and Survival programs
This is to seek synergy with other programmes in the community or at school working for better child health and survival.
Focus On Children, All Children
There are compelling reasons why children must be given special attention in the delivery of eye care services. A blind or severely visually impaired child is vulnerable in more than one level:
1. Many of them often report report too late to the eye specialist, i.e., at the time (after the first 6 years of life) when optimal treatment or corrective surgery is no longer possible , or at best will leave them disabled for life.
2. The other medical services where they are seen more frequently during their first 6 years (mother and child health, immunisation programme, pediatric services) are rarely competent or equipped for early detection and referral of children needing timely eye care.
The roles and responsibilities of the Eye Institute Outreach Services are outlined below: