A day for the children of Africa

By: Petronella Nichols, Africa Regional Director, Brien Holden Vision Institute

Day of the African Child marks a moment where we all should take time to think about the voices of children in Africa. Think about the struggles many of them face on a daily basis, and think about how we can work together to overcome those challenges.

In the recent article Africa’s 3 deadly deficits: Education, electricity, and taxes, authors Gill and Karakulah identify that low levels of education across the Sub-Saharan region are a critical element that is stalling, and in many circumstances halting development. Further studies show that by 2100 half of the world’s youth will live in Africa. These findings are certainly cause to pause, and consider what actions need to be taken, particularly on such a significant day - Day of the African Child, for in no other place is the youth population larger.

So I paused, and got thinking. If the standard of education available to the children in Africa was higher, however only a portion of them were able to see their lessons clearly, would Africa be better placed to meet the Sustainable Development Goals?

I would argue no, as so much more needs to be done. An important step is to recognize the role eye health plays in education and ultimately sustainable development.  

Every child has a right not just to education but quality education. Our children in Africa have the right to quality education! Making this happen will be a long journey, but not unsurmountable if we work in an organized manner, combining our efforts across all sectors.

Gill and Karakulah suggest that the first step to eliminating major development problems is ensuring that every child gets a decent education. I would highlight that eliminating barriers to education, one being the provision of a simple pair of glasses to a child who needs them, will be key.  

The Brien Holden Vision Institute has initiated and been involved in children’s vision programs in Africa for over a decade. We have strategized on to how to reach more children with efficient, reliable eye health services. It has been, and is a challenge, but child eye health remains a key focus area. We know that investing in a child’s eye health has far-reaching, direct and indirect, benefits.

It is estimated that $269 billion in productivity is lost annually due to uncorrected refractive error. If we are to rectify that figure, especially in Africa, the best place to start is with our children.

Children are the future, it sounds cliché, but I do not know a greater truth. They are our future leaders, artists, parents and they are most certainly the ones who will be ensuring the economic life of African communities and countries. We must make every effort to remove any barriers that hinder their ability to reach their full potential with confidence and ease.

Brien Holden Vision Institute, co-founder of Our Children’s Vision, has participated in child eye health programs for over a decade and provided hundreds of thousands of children across Africa with eye care. For more information visit www.brienholdenvision.org

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