With 1.3m of the world’s 1.4m blind children living in Africa and Asia, and the worldwide prevalence of blindness being highest in Africa, the focus of Orbis’s work on the African continent centres around child eye health. Establishing and strengthening child-friendly eye centres, providing specialist training on the treatment of children’s delicate eyes, and ensuring that the appropriate equipment is available are all essential to eliminating child blindness and have been key to Orbis’s interventions to date.
I went to school in the eighties in Norway when the country was booming with oil money. Every school had a nurse on site and a full size football field. The nurse would weigh us, ensure we were fully vaccinated before clearing us to play and learn. Our eyesight was only tested at specific, and far from regular, intervals. Perhaps a lack of vision was not perceived to be a threat to a happy educated childhood? Or perhaps vision was perceived to be a treatable issue that the child would simply tell their parent or teacher about?
By age 12, I had shifted my seating as close to the blackboard as possible so that I could see the writing and had developed very sharp hearing. It was only at age 12, at the scheduled test, that I was referred to an ophthalmologist and received my first pair of bright red spectacles to correct my newly diagnosed near-sightedness. At last I could shift further back in the classroom.
But, when one of the wealthiest countries in the world didn’t pick up vision impairment, even with dedicated staff in every school, how can we expect schools with far less resources to do so? The answer to uncorrected refractive errors, potentially resulting in delayed learning, is certainly not to wait for the child to express that there is a problem as often they view the change in their vision as ‘normal’. More work is needed to create health-seeking behaviours that enable children and adults to address conditions affecting their quality of life.
Delegates who attend Course#26 will gain insight into the way in which Orbis utilises multi-disciplinary teams to design strategies which address the complex barriers to eye health within all levels of the health system. Orbis interventions are meticulously designed, based on sound theoretical principles and locally generated evidence, and integrated with rigorous monitoring and evaluation to promote continuous learning and maximise impact.
IAPB and the 10GA can play a significant role by presenting a strong case to decision makers on the importance of knowing how to practically plan and budget for eye health on a national and provincial level. The goal to prevent avoidable blindness can be achieved in Africa with significant investment empowering communities and giving them access to quality eye healthcare services. If children are left behind, communities will be prevented from flourishing and thriving. This investment could mean that no child, whether they live in Norway or Africa, will ever face a lifetime of preventable and treatable visual impairment or blindness.