In a world first, school children in Tanzania will be trained as “Vision Champions” to test the eyes of their peers, family and community members. It’s all part of a breakthrough study project being directed by Professor Kovin Naidoo, Global Programs Director at Brien Holden Vision Institute, and CEO of the African Vision Institute.
Professor Kovin Naidoo said he believes the Vision Champions will have a “hugely significant impact in reducing the number of children in Tanzania who are living with uncorrected vision impairment”.
The Vision Champions are envisaged to be around 12 years old and are interested learners who show aptitude in their studies. Part of the training is focusing on school children being taught to give others simple screening tests to identify those who may require further eye care. The project also aims to encourage the children to raise awareness about the importance of good eye health.
According to Professor Naidoo, research studies have shown that high cost, language barriers, lack of access, distance and remoteness play a part in people not having regular eye examinations. Training community members to screen the eyes of the people they live close to can help overcome many of these barriers by decreasing cost, and increasing knowledge and accessibility.
Training community members to screen the eyes of the people they live close to can help overcome many of these barriers by decreasing cost, and increasing knowledge and accessibility
“We hope this research will establish the Vision Champions as an innovative, sustainable and efficient model of delivering eye health services to the community,” said Professor Naidoo. “We believe it will improve the reach of eye health services for children by changing attitudes and raising awareness of eye health within the broader community.”
According to Professor Naidoo, uncorrected refractive error and other common eye conditions are a major problem among children under the age 15 years old in Tanzania. In many cases, if a child’s visual development is not monitored early on and if there is a risk of abnormal conditions developing, the child could live with reduced vision for the rest of their life.
“Blindness has far reaching implications for the affected child and their family as it negatively affects education, employment and social prospects,” said Professor Naidoo. “This is one of the reasons why we want to pilot the Vision Champions project in Tanzania, and conduct research into its success over time,” he said.
The study is being funded by a US$80,000 grant awarded by the Lions Club International Foundation’s Sight First Program.