Early tests key to pre­vent­ing blind­ness

Chil­dren’s vi­sion at risk

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - SHEN WU TAN

A NOT-for-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion aimed at re­duc­ing pre­ventable blind­ness and vis­ual im­pair­ment has do­nated 100 copies of its new chil­dren’s sto­ry­book to 13 li­braries in Cape Town and Kamies­berg in cel­e­bra­tion of World Sight Day.

Or­bis Africa teamed up with Room to Read and Dr Ken­neth Young­stein, a Swiss writer of health ed­u­ca­tion ma­te­ri­als, to pro­duce Thembi and the Singing Tree, which ed­u­cates fam­i­lies about the im­por­tance of early test­ing of chil­dren’s eyes.

“Our hope is that The Singing Tree will help chil­dren, their par­ents and their teach­ers to bet­ter un­der­stand the need for test­ing chil­dren, and for pro­vid­ing ap­pro­pri­ate care to al­low all chil­dren to reach their full po­ten­tial,” said Young­stein.

The book fol­lows the story of Thembi, a young girl with vis­ual im­pair­ment who sits alone un­der the large tree be­hind her house. Un­able to see the singing birds above, Thembi thinks it is the tree that is singing. Her con­cerned grand­mother no­tices Thembi’s poor vi­sion and takes her to an eye spe­cial­ist.

About 100 000 chil­dren in South Africa are blind or suf­fer from se­vere vis­ual im­pair­ment. An es­ti­mated 200 chil­dren per mil­lion are blind, ac­cord­ing to the Cape Town So­ci­ety for the Blind.

Sta­tis­tics for chil­dren with vis­ual im­pair­ment are how­ever not de­fin­i­tive.

“Fifty per­cent of child­hood blind­ness can be pre­vented by early de­tec­tion and treat­ment,” said Lene Over­land, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Or­bis Africa.

“In chil­dren, this is usu­ally be­fore the age of six, when the brain and eyes are still de­vel­op­ing.

“Early in­ter­ven­tion can mean the dif­fer­ence be­tween a pros­per­ous, ful­filled life and one spent ham­strung by vis­ual im­pair­ment.”

The Cape Town So­ci­ety for the Blind re­ports that chil­dren with vis­ual im­pair­ment face hur­dles that in­clude dif­fi­culty with ed­u­ca­tion, lim­ited ca­reer devel­op­ment, lack of ser­vices and re­sources, and be­com­ing an eco­nomic bur­den.

Both par­ents and teach­ers can play a key role in iden­ti­fy­ing if a child might be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing prob­lems with sight. If they sus­pect a child is, it is rec­om­mended they get the child tested as soon as pos­si­ble.

The Blind So­ci­ety also sug­gests par­ents check if ba­bies can fol­low light when they are born, note if eyes are straight and of equal size, see if the eyes don’t just move in­vol­un­tar­ily, and ed­u­cate chil­dren to pro­tect them­selves from sun ex­po­sure and sharp ob­jects.

Some com­mon causes of blind­ness and vis­ual im­pair­ment in chil­dren in­clude con­gen­i­tal cataracts, con­gen­i­tal glau­coma, ma­lig­nant tu­mours, retinopa­thy of pre­ma­tu­rity, and in­flam­ma­tion.

Reach­ing more than 5 000 pupils, Thembi and the Singing Tree will be avail­able at the fol­low­ing schools: Bound­ary Pri­mary, Montevideo Pri­mary, Mait­land High, Rah­maniyeh Pri­mary, Chapel Street Pri­mary, Walmer Es­tate Pri­mary, Rose­wood Pri­mary, Athlone Pri­mary, Fac­tre­ton Pri­mary and Schotsche Kloof Pri­mary.

The sto­ry­book will also be dis­trib­uted at three school li­braries in Na­maqua­land, the North­ern Cape and the Kamies­berg re­gion.

shen.wu­tan@inl.co.za

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