Bharati teaching her students at school in Nepal

Children in Britain missing eye tests and those in low-income countries most at risk of sight loss

New findings released reveal the impact of the pandemic on children’s eyesight in Britain. 7 in 10 adults are not aware that children should have an eye test at 4-5 years of age, as recommended by the NHS, and half of all parents with a child under 18 are not aware of this.

With children going back to school in September and spending more time on digital devices than ever before, we're urging parents to book eye tests for their children as soon as possible.

The YouGov poll of 2,025 adults across Britain, 373 of them parents with children under 18 years of age, was commissioned by Orbis UK - the international eye health charity. Over half (54%) of parents admit they have not attempted to book an appointment for their children since the pandemic, while almost a quarter of parents (24%) are not sure if their child’s eye- sight has got worse in this time.

The poll marks the two-year anniversary of its See My Future UK Aid Match appeal which works to fight avoidable blindness amongst children in Nepal. While the findings reveal a need for action on eye health in Great Britain, the situation is especially stark for those living in parts of the world with little access to eye healthcare.

Globally 1.1 billion people experience vision loss and 90% of it is avoidable. Most of these people live in low-to-middle income countries such as Nepal, where avoidable vision loss means children are dropping out of school – either because their own eye health is poor, or to care for a blind or visually impaired family member.

The Orbis REACH (Refractive Error Among Children) initiative, partially funded by the UK government through UK Aid Match, works in the remote areas of Parsa and Siraha in Southeast Nepal. Eye health workers screen and treat children with vision loss, enabling them to continue to attend school and look forward to a brighter future.

Larry Benjamin, Orbis medical volunteer and retired Consultant Ophthalmologist says: “The pandemic has been a challenge for all of us and it’s understandable parents have avoided health visits. But with so many children in Britain not seeing an optician, it is important that parents try to book eye tests for their children where possible.

“And for children living in parts of the world with little or no access to eye care, the challenges brought about by the pandemic are particularly worrying. Globally, children and adults have missed routine eye exams, and people are avoiding visits to eye health centers as they fear contracting the virus. It’s vital that Orbis reaches as many people as possible, to ensure more children and families can hope for a better future.”

Rebecca Cronin, Chief Executive of Orbis UK, says: “Like NHS and high street eye-care teams, our eye health partners around the world have risen to the challenges brought about by the pandemic, delivering eye care in remote parts of the world and adhering to local guidelines to ensure patient safety.”

“But millions of people, especially children, are not getting the timely treatment they need. In many areas of the world where Orbis works, undiagnosed sight loss can have devastating consequences, plunging families into poverty.

“Even before the pandemic, the need for specialist eye doctors was already outpacing the numbers of trained experts in ophthalmic care. With 50% of those surveyed expressing concern about this, it’s clear the work of Orbis is more vital than ever and your support critical to the fight against avoidable blindness”.

Ganga and her friends at school in Nepal

The See My Future Appeal in 2019 raised almost £1.4 million pounds for the REACH project, this included over £650,000 of match funding from the UK government. The funds have enabled over 71,639 children to have eye screenings, reached 213 schools and delivered treatments and training for eye health workers so they can identify vision issues.

With schools closed for much of 2020 the project adapted, working with local female community health volunteers to deliver house to house screenings. As a result, 1,000 more children, who do not normally attend school and would otherwise not be screened, had their eyes tested for the first time.

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