More than 38,000 children have been screened for debilitating eye conditions just six months into a trial targeting Pakistan’s most challenging regions.
This is the first year of a two-year trial, which will see thousands of students at primary schools screened for refractive error (the need for glasses) in the districts of Peshawar in the north and Nowshero-Feroz and Turbat in the south.
"Around 6% of children in Pakistan
live with disabling eye conditions like short- and long-sightedness, blurred vision and focusing problems," says The Fred Hollows Foundation's Pakistan Program Co-ordinator, Rashin Choudhry.
"Often the problem can be solved with a simple pair of spectacles. But without this help, these children can struggle at school and home, missing out on life opportunities other children take for granted.
"This program is reaching children while they are still young and these interventions are most successful."
The school screening program is part of broader efforts by The Foundation to improve paediatric eye care services across Pakistan in partnership with the Australian people through AusAID
As the eye health workers travel from school to school in difficult regions, they are also training teachers to detect eye conditions. This is one way The Foundation is helping to set up sustainable health systems in Pakistan.
"By training the teachers we can be assured that there are always people in these communities who can identify when a child needs treatment and refer them on to a local health clinic or hospital," says Rashin.
"Schools are an ideal place to screen children of all ages quickly and efficiently. We hope that in future this basic eye care training will become part of all teacher training programs around the country. This will be achieved by working with Pakistan's Department of Health and the Department of Education."
It is expected that in this year alone thousands more school children will be screened in Pakistan. Once the two year trial is completed, it is hoped that the Government of Pakistan will expand this model of eye screening across the country.
The Foundation is also working with the Government of Pakistan to ensure that when children become adults, they can continue to access eye health treatment regardless of their geographical location. In 2010 alone, 37,621 sight-saving operations were performed and over 2,000 people were reached through outreach eye camps in northern Pakistan.
Work in Pakistan is a story of continued success. Since beginning work there in 1998, the rate of blindness has halved from 1.8% to 0.9%. The Foundation has provided assistance to almost two million people, allowing them to return to their lives with restored vision and a much higher quality of life.
Learn more about the Pakistan program