Uncorrected Refractive Errors (REs) are one of the leading causes of avoidable blindness and visual impairments. According to National Blindness Survey of Pakistan, three to four per cent of children in Pakistan suffer from refractive errors. Across Pakistan, over three million children suffer from uncorrected refractive errors. Most parents are either unaware that their children are unable to see properly or are unable to afford a pair of prescription glasses. Uncorrected refractive errors hamper a child’s development, education and career opportunities. Reduced vision often leads to poor school performance resulting in a large number of children dropping out from school. Most importantly, uncorrected refractive errors, not treated at the right time, can lead to blindness. For children and their families this means all their dreams and aspirations for the future, are lost. An active future contributor could become a passive, dependent and non-productive individual.
Statistics on out-of- school children show that over one-half of the children in Pakistan drop out of schools without completing primary education. Pakistan is a house of highest out-of- school children in the world. Twenty-five million children aged between 5-16 years are out of schools despite the fact that Article 25-A of the Constitution of Pakistan makes a promise to provide free and compulsory education to every child as a fundamental right. United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child (UNCRC) places a high value on education and urges member countries to facilitate provision of free education to all children without discrimination. Pakistan is also a signatory to international commitments such as Education for All (EFA) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Country could not achieved the targets of both EFA and MDGs. It would not be possible to meet the targets of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) until the government ensures the enrollment and retention of all children in school, including children with visual impairments. Effective strategies are therefore required to treat refractive errors among children in schools and communities to ensure that they do not drop out of the educational system.
Research studies shows that screening in schools is a cost effective approach for early detection and treatment of refractive errors that helps to reach more children with less efforts. The World Health Organization (WHO) therefore, encourages national governments to formulate strategies at the national level for early detection and treatment of uncorrected refractive errors in school-aged children through school screening programs. In Pakistan, this huge problem calls for immediate attention from government. It also requires collaboration between schools, parents, health professionals and other stakeholders.
School screening for identification of refractive errors among children has not been a priority of governments in Pakistan. Few national and International INGOs have implemented school screening programs in the country. These programs were very successful in terms of reaching huge number of children for identification and treatment of refractive errors. However, integration of such programs into government plans has been a challenge. It is therefore suggested that, based on the learnings of such programs, provincial governments should take immediate steps to ensure children are not left suffering
from refractive errors. Teachers should be trained in conducting simple eye-screening tests of all students in their respective schools. Children identified with vision problems should be referred to health facilities for further treatment. An eye-screening module could easily be incorporated in the curriculum for the teachers’ training to build their capacity in conducting eye-screening tests. Additionally, eye-screenings could be made mandatory for all children at the time of admission in schools. These simple steps at the policy-level could improve rates of retention in schools, contribute towards better learning outcomes and save the future of over three million children suffering from untreated refractive errors.
About Author: Itfaq Khaliq Khan is a development professional who has been working in development sector since 13 years. Research Scholar, Human Rights activist and a public speaker.