Every five seconds someone goes blind and once a minute a child loses his or her sight, says the South African Optometric Association.
It is estimated that a staggering 1.4 million children in the world are blind, and most of these live in developing countries, of which approximately 300 000 are in sub-Saharan Africa.
Children are born with a visual system that is still developing, and therefore any factor that alters the clear image required to stimulate the retina, which is like the film in a camera, will have an effect on the normal development of the visual system.
Can be avoided
Many of the causes of blindness in children are classified as avoidable or preventable and can include a vitamin A deficiency, measles, newborn conjunctivitis, congenital cataracts and retinopathy of prematurely.
The combination of vitamin A deficiency and measles is particularly devastating.
In some countries a high percentage of children become blind due to corneal scarring related to the inappropriate use of substances to treat eye conditions.
Eye Care Awareness Week (8-12 October) and World Sight Day (11 October) This year focuses on the impact of blindness and vision loss in children.
Measures parents can take
New parents should have their children immunised, especially against measles
Provide a balanced diet
Try to keep children's faces clean and promote basic cleanliness.
If the parent or care giver is worried about the vision of a child, make sure that the child is referred to an optometrist and/or ophthalmologist for a visual examination.
Take action when the child:
- Complains of frequent headaches
- Blinks excessively
- Continuously rubs their eyes
- Walks into or misses objects
- Squints up the eyes to see
- Sits very close to the TV
- Writes with their head in the book
- Reads letters up close
- Misreads a sentence or cannot concentrate on reading material
- Copies down incorrectly from the board
Should there be any problems, visit your nearest optometrist for a vision screening.
This screening is not a full eye examination, but could indicate whether there is a problem and if a full eye examination or a referral for further assessment is required.
Contact the South African National Council for the Blind at (012) 452 3811 for your nearest specialist and the SA Optometric Association at (011) 805-4517 for your nearest optometrist.
Source: Press release from the South African Optometric Association and the National Council for the Blind.