Comprehensive school eye health programs: a unique opportunity

By: Serge Resnikoff, Chair, Global Advisory Board, Our Children’s Vision

School health programs are a unique opportunity to provide comprehensive eye health services to potentially more than 700 million children throughout the world. Looking into the future, this number will only increase, especially in low income countries, due to the combined effect of population growth and progress in schooling.

Access to eye care for an increasing number of school age children is critically important for at least four reasons:

First, it is a golden opportunity to deliver eye health education messages ranging from hygiene to healthy diet and outdoor activities to prevent trachoma, vitamin A deficiency, diabetes and high myopia. In that respect eye health promotion – and corresponding policies – have a long-term, sustainable impact on both individuals and communities. Health education to reduce stigma associated with visual impairment or spectacle wear or is another essential yet neglected aspect.

Second, early detection and referral of children with eye problems is key to timely provision of highly cost effective interventions such as provision of glasses. School-based screening programs allow early detection of conditions that cannot be cured but require appropriate low vision services. These include inclusive education, to ensure that each and every child can achieve his or her full potential. This further contributes to the social and economic development at individual and community level.

Third, irritated, sore, light sensitive eyes significantly impede children’s ability to learn and may lead to the use of harmful practices, which can further damage the eyes. In some areas, eye morbidity represents a significant cause of school dropout. The detection and treatment of common eye conditions, such as conjunctivitis and lid infections are a critical part of child-centred comprehensive school health programs.

Fourth, considering that 80% of what a child learns is processed through the visual system, good vision is critical to the child’s ability to participate in and benefit from educational experiences. In that respect,
improving the vision of school children contributes to improved education status, which in turn leads to better health in adult age, a spiralling up, virtuous, circle.

The recently released, Standard Guidelines for Comprehensive School Eye Health Programs, are a great tool for planning and implementing school eye care programs at all levels. The experienced and knowledgeable authors cover the whole spectrum of eye health – the guidelines provide not only a very comprehensive approach to school eye health but also some practical keys to integrate it into general health policies and programs.

These guidelines are for you, if:

  • You are involved in school health or eye health?
  • You are a policy maker, a manager, a service provider?
  • You are a stakeholder or a member of the education community?
  • You are simply interested in making peoples’ lives better?

They will help you set up, develop or strengthen comprehensive eye health programs, as an integral part of school heath. And where school health programs do not yet exist, eye health can be a very effective stepping stone to initiate the development of other essential components of school heath.

Clearly a win-win situation in both cases.

The Standard Guidelines for Comprehensive School Eye Health Programs are available for download here




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