New Efforts Are Helping Close the Eye Care Gap for Children

(StatePoint) Healthy eyesight is critical for educational success. Studies show that children with vision impairment can experience lower educational achievement and self-esteem levels than their normally-sighted peers. This is why it’s important for all children to receive an annual eye exam.

However, due to a range of factors, including lack of insurance coverage and access to health services, not all kids are able to receive an eye exam. The global program Sight For Kids, co-founded by Johnson & Johnson Vision and Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF), is now aiming to eliminate these barriers in the United States.

“The ability to see is not a privilege. It is a right owed to every single kid in our community and beyond,” says, Shlomi Nachman, company group chairman, Cardiovascular & Specialty Solutions Group and Johnson & Johnson Vision.

As it turns out, teachers are frequently the first to notice a child needs vision correction. Teachers have a unique ability to identify behavioral changes and notice when children suffer socially and academically, which may be attributed to poor vision. According to a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association Ophthalmology, students in grades 3 to 7 who received vision correction through a school-based vision program achieved better reading scores. This is why Sight For Kids provides teachers with training to deliver eye health education and mobilizes local Lions Clubs to screen for common eye conditions. Students identified with potential vision impairment or eye ailments are then referred to healthcare providers for a comprehensive evaluation. In an effort to reduce vision care inequities, the program also provides students with no-cost eye health education, screening, eye exams, glasses and special follow-up treatment and care, if necessary.

“As teachers, if we notice the signs of vision problems, we can refer students and their families to the proper health care provider,” says Edna Johnson, a grade school teacher at St. Lucie County Schools.

In the South Florida area, Johnson & Johnson Vision and LCIF are collaborating with the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired through its Florida Heiken Children’s Vision Program to help 20,000 students facing inequities get much needed eye care, including educational eye health materials in four languages to meet the needs of diverse communities.

“This program enables us to ensure children in our community have the eye exams and glasses they need to be successful in school and to potentially prevent serious eye health conditions before they cause permanent damage,” says Virginia A. Jacko, president and CEO, Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired and Florida Heiken Children’s Vision Program.

Nearly 2,000 kids in South Florida have received an eye exam since September 2021 alone, thanks to Sight For Kids and 4 million have globally in the past year. Among those who’ve benefitted from the program is Rajiv who was prescribed his first pair of glasses. His mom knew his interaction in class was being affected due to poor vision, but she was unable to take time off work to get him an eye exam. Yensi’s parents don’t have insurance and couldn’t afford eye care, but through the program, Yensi received a referral for a free exam. Kimberly’s parents, who recently immigrated to the United States, didn’t feel safe seeking eye care for their second grader. Thanks to Sight For Kids, Kimberly was prescribed her first pair of glasses in an environment where her family could feel safe and educated in their native language. Ruth’s family also recently immigrated. Diagnosed by the optometrist at the Sight for Kids screening, Ruth is back in class wearing glasses and keeping up with her classmates.

“Many times, immigrant students do not have the access, ability, or insurance to cover vision exams and they struggle in school or socially,” says Ruth’s mother.

One clear way to help children thrive in school is to make sure they get an eye exam. Are you a parent or a caregiver? Schedule an eye exam for your little one today. To find an eye doctor near you, visit prioritizeyoureyes.com/eyeexam.

Healthy vision is fundamental to overall health and educational success. Reducing inequities in eye care makes a huge impact for individuals, families and communities.