Did you know that, 80% of what a child learns is processed through the visual system? Yet, 12 million children worldwide struggle to learn simply because they need glasses.

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We believe that every child, everywhere regardless of their gender, economic status and geographical location deserves the right to clear vision and opportunities in life. That is why we are committed to school eye health programmes. 

Locally, common to all our school eye health programmes is that they are developed and delivered: from the ground up, in response to each country’s national strategic plan for eye health; in partnership with local governments; and with an ambitious aim to scale up though integrating into school health programmes, benefiting children throughout the entirety of each country.

Globally, our school eye health programmes contribute to the shared effort to urgently address poor vision amongst our children.  The programmes are developed in accordance with internationally approved standard guidelines for school eye health programs, and are contextualised to each country to provide a set of national guidelines.

A 2019 report by the World Bank and EYElliance finds that ‘children with visual impairments are falling behind in learning goals and school enrolment’ but that ‘school eye health programs, which provide vision screening and eyeglasses to children in schools, are a simple solution.’

Our school eye health programmes also respond to the 2019 WHO World Report on Vision which underlines that the global need for eye care is projected to increase dramatically in the coming decade.

VAO is a member of Our Children’s Vision campaign, that aims to screen 50 million children by the year 2020 to consolidate efforts to enable more children worldwide to access eye care services.

Our response in Sierra Leone

Beginning in 2019 in Sierra Leone, we have a two-year, school eye health programme that will reach 159 rural schools, 988 teachers and 44,000 children with improved eye health in Kenema district of the Eastern Province.

By working in partnership with the Government of Sierra Leone we will:

Train teachers in vision screening and eye health care; screen children and teachers and provide eye tests and glasses when necessary; raise awareness about eye health and the importance of glasses;  strengthen the health system by improving links and referrals from the primary level through to district hospitals and beyond; and by strengthening supply chains to make sure glasses and equipment are available in the long term.

Once a child is identified as having an eye condition, the school will be visited by a mobile team of eye care professionals from the district hospital, and any children who require glasses will be provided with them free of charge.

Alfred Yambasu, Country Director, VAO, Sierra Leone, says:

“This will be the USAID Childhood Blindness Programme’s first ever programme in Sierra Leone and Vision Aid Overseas’ first time working alongside USAID. We are excited to work on this vital programme to ensure more children can see and study in Sierra Leone”.

Our response in Ethiopia

Between 2013 – 2016, VAO was funded by DfID and Essilor Ltd to help improve the livelihoods of people living in five districts of southern Ethiopia by increasing access to primary eye care, glasses and treatment for eye diseases.

Of the 2,569 children treated under our project, 73% showed improvements in their school performance since receiving treatment.

Now, at VAO we are seeking funding partners to help deliver a new three-year school eye health programme to reduce visual impairment amongst children, thereby increasing their access to and retention in education. The pilot will take place in East Wollega, in Oromia – a rural area, with most people reliant upon smallholder farming. There is a high level of poverty and a lack of eye health facilities and awareness.

Our ambition is that over 60,000 children will be screened by teachers (of which 50% will be girls) at 103 schools.  All children that require glasses or other forms of treatment will be treated by visiting eyecare teams.  Teachers will also be screened and treated to ensure they can effectively deliver their classes.  A vision centre has been established at the referral hospital in Nekemte town which will make glasses to prescription for the school children and teachers, and also serve the wider population with eyecare services and glasses.

The need in this area is urgent, so we have already made a start. From 2019, we are rolling out the programme to 20 schools and hope to add more schools as funding is secured. To this aim, we have launched our appeal ‘Support a School’.

Interested in knowing more or becoming a partner? Get in touch. 

Our response in Zambia

VAO, in partnership with the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Ministry of General Education (MOGE) has developed a new National School Eye Health Protocol. Together, we are piloting the protocol in one district of Zambia to identify children with uncorrected refractive error and other eye conditions.

So far, since 2019, over 22,000 children have been screened across all 73 schools in Kafue district.  For those children who need them, they have been supplied with glasses, eye drops, or low vision aids so that they can now see well. We are working with community groups and primary healthcare workers to reach and benefit children who are not in school too.

Importantly, we will use 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. 

This programme has been made possible thanks to support from Specsavers UK.

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