A new charitable initiative will see optometrists address undiagnosed eye conditions in thousands of low-decile Kiwi schoolchildren throughout New Zealand.
Sixty optometrists from around the country have committed to providing their time free of charge, to investigate and address vision problems among low-decile primary school children.
An initial pilot study found 42 percent of year 4-7 students at a decile one school were living with a range of eyesight conditions, raising concerns there could be thousands more struggling to see clearly.
The initiative will see free frames and lenses donated by the Essilor Vision Foundation in addition to the optometrists providing their services free.
As part of the new initiative, optometrists will visit schools and use specialised equipment to screen for a wide range of conditions, including long and short sightedness, astigmatism, myopia and hyperopia, all of which can present significant barriers to a child’s learning.
While there is a current screening programme for children in their first week of school, children's eyes are not sufficiently matured until between the ages of 9-12, which is when eyecare practitioners are able to pick up additional conditions.
MP for Manurewa, Louisa Wall, will attend the official launch of the Essilor Vision Foundation at a national optometrist’s conference on Friday.
Ms Wall has worked as a policy advisor for the Children and Families Commissions, the Human Rights Commission, and holds a Bachelor’s degree in social policy.
The MP says she’s grateful to the participating optometrists for the contribution of their specialist skills to the project.
“Thank you to the Essilor Vision Foundation and optometrists from across New Zealand for giving their time and expertise to ensure that our most vulnerable children can be assessed and their needs met so they are in the best position to learn,” says Ms Wall.
"We must remove all barriers to learning so all children have the opportunity to read and to participate fully. Without full sight, you can't fully read and you can't fully participate. This limitation is preventable and it is through initiatives such as that proposed today that will make a big difference in the lives of all our children, families and communities."
Tim Thurn, professional services director, Essilor says the work of the optometrists around New Zealand will make a huge difference to the lives of many children.
“We know from experience that children with vision problems cannot perform to their full potential in school. Some will be misdiagnosed with behavioral problems when it is simply that they can’t see what the teacher is writing on the board at the front of the class,” he says.
Experts estimate 80 percent of a child’s learning at school is visual, and children with undiagnosed conditions can avoid reading and other school tasks to avoid discomfort.
The Essilor Vision Foundation screening will start in March/April 2016, and will take place in decile one and two schools throughout New Zealand.