On the International Day of Education, as part of our year-long Focus on Child Eye Health, IAPB’s Brooke Blanchard highlights the undeniably critical role vision plays in accessing education.

24 January 2022 marks the 4th annual celebration of International Day of Education. The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed this day of commemoration as an opportunity to acknowledge the critical role education plays in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as well as fostering peace and security for all nations. A quality education brings lifelong opportunities for all, reduces inequalities and breaks the cycle of poverty that is leaving millions of children, youth and adults behind.

This year, the theme for International Day of Education is “Changing Course, Transforming Education.” It is an opportunity to showcase the most important transformations that are needed to realize everyone’s fundamental right to education. IAPB seeks to utilize this platform to highlight the undeniably critical role vision plays in accessing education and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG 4-Quality Education.

Child eye health and education are inextricably linked in driving sustainable development and ensuring no child is left behind. Education is widely considered a fundamental human right and the basis for guaranteeing the realization of an adequate standard of living. However, if you struggle to see, you struggle to learn. 80% of what young children learn is processed through their sight. Today, 90 million children and adolescents are currently living with vision loss. The majority of these children live in low-and middle-income countries, with approximately 75% of blind children live in LICs. As a result, these children have poorer educational outcomes, are more likely to be excluded from schools, and will have far-reaching consequences on employment, earning potential and well-being.

If inclusive and equitable education is critical to global development, reducing poverty and hunger, enabling work and reducing inequalities, then well-integrated, innovative strategies to address the growing need around child eye health is required. IAPB believes that no education system is effective unless it promotes the health and well-being of its students, staff and community. The implementation of School Eye Health Programs are the key to preventing long-term visual impairment in children, increasing access to education, and fulfilling a basic and universal human right.

School interventions are a unique opportunity to screen vision and/or provide comprehensive eye health services to potentially more than 700 million children throughout the world. School-based health interventions are recognized as the primary institutional pathway for reaching a majority of children on a regular basis, particularly with preventative interventions. Child eye health needs to be an essential component of these programs worldwide.

Comprehensive school eye health programs are a highly cost-effective approach for detecting and treating uncorrected refractive errors, can impact other endemic issues faced by children such as vitamin A deficiency or trachoma, and are potentially more cost effective that other primary eye care models of delivery. However, while the inclusion of school eye health in school health and nutrition policies create a theoretical framework for school vision screening, a lack of budget, systems and awareness within the education sector may prevent it from being successful. Given that children represent, in many nations, 50% of the population, it is vital that equal consideration is given to planning and resourcing of child eye health services.

Notably, several countries are showing how it is possible to reach all children, link them with eye health services where necessary, and thereby drastically improve their life chances, through eye screening in schools.  In Botswana, a partnership between the Government of Botswana and Peek Vision will deliver comprehensive school eye health to every school child (and teacher) in the country, the first country in the world to do so. Other countries, such as Pakistan, Rwanda, India, Samoa and Ghana are making major strides towards implementing and strengthening school eye health initiatives.

Without strategic action now, children around the world will continue to be disadvantaged by vision problems that are preventable, treatable or curable. IAPB’s new strategic plan, 2030 In Sight outlines actions to achieve a world where no one experiences unnecessary or preventable sight loss, and every child can achieve their full potential. You can be part of the conversation that will change the lives of billions of children by joining us for 2030 IN SIGHT LIVE. This will be a hybrid event at the World Trade Centre, Dubai, UAE 2-3 March 2022 that will put a lens on sustainable change and practical action for the next decade.

An efficient school eye health program can be one of the most effective and efficient investments a nation can make to improve access to education and health care, as well as to progress towards more sustainable development in gender equality, poverty reduction, economic growth and more. As we celebrate the International Day of Education, we call upon the international community to take the necessary steps in addressing child eye health and ensuring that all children are able to see a future of possibility and prosperity.

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