Early tests key to preventing blindness
Children’s vision at risk
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.