Nguyen Manh Nghia, an 8th grader from the rural area of Hai Duong province, is a beneficiary of The Fred Hollows Foundation Vietnam Child Eye Care Project. Nghia knew he had a vision problem when he was having trouble playing, and seeing the letters on the blackboard became more and more difficult. Nghia didn’t know where or how to get help.
"Nghia always squinted his eyes when looking at the board. Consequently, he could not pay attention to the lesson. Sometimes, he talked with his friends instead of listening to the lectures," his teacher, Ms Ha Thi Quynh said.
Fortunately, Ms Quynh, had been trained by The Foundation to identify vision problems and conduct eye screening. She was able to diagnose Nghia with myopia or shortsightedness – a problem that could easily be solved by giving Nghia a pair of glasses.
When Nghia received his glasses, he became more sociable with his classmates, and more active in class. His grades improved and he is now an ambassador for eye health, sharing his knowledge and experience with his classmates, family and friends.
Millions of children in developing countries need eye care
Millions of children like Nghia in developing countries are at risk of dropping out of school due to vision impairment. Almost three quarters of a child’s early learning is dependent on vision  so early detection and effective treatment of vision impairment is vital to keeping children in school.
But many children in developing countries do not have access to eye care services, making them vulnerable to the impact of vision impairment and consequently, school drop-out. Girls are particularly vulnerable, being 1.5 times more likely to be affected by vision impairment due to barriers that prevent them from accessing eye care services , .
Where children with vision impairment do attend school, they are unable to fully participate in school activities without support. An estimated 19 million children globally have a vision impairment, of that, 12 million are affected by refractive error .
Early detection and treatment are key
This can be corrected with simple interventions such as a pair of glasses or low-cost surgery.
The challenge is reaching these children with early interventions before vision impairment severely impacts their development and results in delayed learning and low rates of school participation and educational attainment ,  – or worse, becomes permanent.
At The Fred Hollows Foundation, we know that early detection and treatment can save a child from a life of blindness and the cycle of poverty. But an estimated 3 out of 4 children who are blind or vision impaired live in some of the most disadvantaged parts of the world4, with limited access to eye health services.
Schools are the best place for vision screening
The most effective and efficient way of accessing these children is through schools. The Foundation has developed successful school eye health programs that train teachers to educate children about eye health, conduct eye screening checks and refer them for treatment.
Teachers are perfectly placed to identify children at risk of vision impairment before it impacts on educational attendance and performance.
Correcting vision loss early and increasing school participation and academic achievement not only benefits the child, it also benefits communities and economies, with evidence suggesting a strong correlation between a country’s overall academic performance and economic growth .
The Fred Hollows Foundation Vietnam Child Eye Care Project
As a global leader in eye health, The Fred Hollows Foundation works with health and education sectors to integrate vision screening and eye health education into the school curriculum.
For example, in Vietnam, we have been working in partnership with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education and Training to develop school eye health guidelines and eye health training and teaching curriculum that will ensure all children have access to eye health services.
The Vietnam Child Eye Care project aims to support the integration of health and education sectors in order to improve the eye health and educational outcomes of children aged 6–15 years.
So far, the project has:
- Provided eye screening for over 489,000 primary and secondary school children
- Dispensed 10,219 glasses to children with refractive error
- Treated 37 children with eye diseases
- Trained 742 school nurses and 8,803 teachers on how to educate children on eye care, conduct vision tests and refer children for treatment.
The Vietnam Child Eye Care project is scheduled for completion in 2019.
Over the coming year, the project will increase the number of children with access to school eye health services, extend the capacity of school staff and eye health personnel to deliver eye care services and improve the awareness of eye care among children, parents and teachers.
- When your eye patient is a child. Chandna, A and Gilbert, C. 72, 2010, CEHJ, Vol. 23, pp. 1-3.
- Global Prevalence of Vision Impairment and Blindness Magnitude and Temporal Trends Stevens. Gretchen A, et al. 1990-2010. 11 July 2013, Journal of Ophthalmology.
- Cataract surgical coverage remains lower in women. Lewallen, S, Mousa, A and Bassett, K. 2009, British Journal of Ophthalmology, Vol. 93, pp. 295-298.
- Global estimates of visual impairment 2010. Pascolini, D and Mariotti, S. 2012,BJO 96(5):614-618.
- A chance to address visual impairment in comprehensive school health programmes: Inclusive education. Vision & Development. Trimmel, J. 2011, 1.
- Uncorrected Refractive Errors. Kovin, S Naidoo and Jaggernath, Jyoti. 5, 2012, Indian Journal of Ophthalmology, Vol. 60, pp. 432-437.
- Do better schools lead to more growth? Cognitive skills, economic outcomes and causation. Hanushek, EA and Woessmann, L.. 2012, J Econ Growth, Vol. 17, pp. 267-321.