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Poor vision as detrimental to learning as poverty

New research from the World Bank and international charity organisation EYElliance has found that an unaddressed vision problem can be just as detrimental to a child’s learning as socio-economic disadvantage.

Released to coincide with the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the World Bank’s recent study Looking Ahead: Visual Impairment and School Eye Health Programs estimates that children with a visual impairment are, on average, 5-7% less likely to enrol in school, complete their primary education and be literate than children without a disability.

The researchers also found that among 10 of the 21 countries in Francophone Africa examined for the study, children with a visual impairment performed worse in primary school on reading and maths tests than their non-visually impaired counterparts.

“Ensuring that children with visual impairment have the same opportunities to go to school and learn as other children is essential to reduce learning poverty, which is the inability to read and understand a simple text at age 10,” Mr Quentin Wodon, World Bank lead economist and co-author of the study, said.

An effective solution to the issue could be school health programs that focus on screening for visual issues suppling glasses. A survey of some of the largest not-for-profit organisations implementing school eye health programs throughout the region demonstrated that these initiatives can be both affordable and practical.

Despite this, it was found that only about 5% of grade two students and 7% of grade six students across the region received eye screening tests in 2014.

“Eye health is a key link between health, education, and economic prosperity,” Ms Elizabeth Smith, EYElliance CEO and co-founder, said.

“Ministries of Education and Health in low- and middle-income countries have an impact opportunity at hand, Liberia’s recent experience suggests that national, government-led school eye health initiatives are both achievable and affordable.”

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