By Angela Onwuzoo
About 5.5 million Nigerian children suffer from visual impairment and would need eyeglasses to see clearly, a paediatric ophthalmologist, Dr Halima Alimi, has revealed.
The eye expert, who is the Executive Director, Restore Foundation for Child Sight, a non-government organisation that advocates for improved eye care for children, said the children have refractive errors and are unable to see clearly as a result of either being short-sighted, long-sighted or they have what is called astigmatism.
The paediatric ophthalmologist noted that though there are other causes of vision impairments in children such as cataracts and glaucoma, the only way to rectify vision as a result of refractive errors is through a pair of glasses.
She said, “Now world over, there are about 12 million children who are visually impaired because of spectacle issues. They just need a pair of spectacles to make their lives better.
“In Nigeria, it is estimated that at least 5.5 million children have vision problems that are related to spectacles and are either long-sighted, shortsighted or astigmatic.
“So, a minimum of 5.5 million children in Nigeria need to have a pair of glasses to make their vision and education better.
“These children have refractive errors which, means they are unable to see clearly as a result of either being long-sighted, long-sighted or they have what is called astigmatism.
“Those are called refractive errors and the only way to rectify vision as a result of refractive errors is through a pair of glasses.”
The executive director, who spoke with PUNCH Healthwise during a free school eye health outreach for secondary students in Lagos State, organised by the foundation to commemorate the 2023 World Sight Day, said in the last two years, the foundation has been providing school eye care to disadvantaged children and disadvantaged communities.
According to her, the school eye health outreach is meant to bring qualitative care to children in school where they are naturally gathered.
Alimi regretted that a lot of children are losing out and not being able to contribute their quota to national development as a result of visual impairments that could be rectified with eyeglasses.
At least one billion people, or 15 per cent of the world’s population, experience some form of disability, with a higher prevalence in developing countries, while between 110 million and 190 million people experience significant disabilities, according to a 2020 World Bank report on Disability Inclusion.
It noted that in Nigeria, over 25 million people live with different forms of disability.
According to the WB, providing eyeglasses to children with visual impairment helps them to learn.
The global body noted that visual impairment is one of the most common disabilities for children, and its prevalence is growing rapidly globally.
It, however, stressed that the vast majority of visual impairment in children can be corrected with a pair of eyeglasses, but especially in low and lower-middle-income countries, the coverage of school-based programmes that screen children for visual impairment and provide eyeglasses to those who need them is very low.
“Children with visual impairment who lack access to vision correction are at a disadvantage in terms of school enrollment, educational attainment, and learning. “
They may not be able to see properly what a teacher is doing in the classroom or what is written on the blackboard, especially when classrooms don’t have adequate lighting.
“Children with visual impairment, who don’t have eyeglasses may also have trouble taking notes and they may not absorb the same amount of information as their peers. “The challenge of achieving inclusive education for these children is substantial, but conversely, the opportunities that school eye health programmes could provide are major as well,” the WB stated.
Speaking about the eye outreach, the paediatric ophthalmologist said, “This is Education District Six and we plan to go school by school in the district. When we are done with district six, we will go to other districts. We intend to conquer vision impairment in children.
“We are just on a journey of discovery to find out what their vision status is and improve the vision status to be optimal because 80 per cent of classroom learning is visual.
“So, if you have visually impaired children, the implication is poor academic performance and by extension, poor future attainment.”
Giving insight into the benefits of the school eye health programme, she added,” Basically, what we are doing here is making children’s lives better by improving their vision.
“We will provide them with glasses and drugs and we will do all that free of charge.
“We have found children already who would need eye surgeries and children with cataracts. What Restore Foundation does is bring qualitative care to disadvantaged children giving them a chance to break out of poverty because education is a veritable tool out of poverty.
“This school eye health programme does not exclude educators. They also need optimal vision. Once we are done with children we are going to be giving teachers evaluations in their own time and doing what we can.
“World Sight Day is celebrated all over the world on this day and this is part of our contribution. The theme for this year’s World Sight Day is ‘Love your sight at work. ‘