Teachers and eye care providers involved in a school-based vision screening initiative in Quetta have shared their experiences as part of a research project to help improve the programme.
A group of 14 teachers from eight schools with high rates of inaccurate (false positive) referrals were interviewed, alongside three optometrists from a not-for-profit private eye care hospital that had trained the teachers.
Most participants felt that there was a strong level of support for the programme within the schools, although some said there were operational issues undermining the quality of screening. Some felt that the training was not long enough or was rushed, and that the procedures were not sufficiently explained, resulting in children being over-referred for ophthalmic services.
To improve the efficiency of vision screening in schools, the research concluded that future initiatives should offer more in-depth teacher training, and should provide support and refresher training, as well as focusing on the workload and motivation of the teachers trained. More from Pakistan
Siblings Peace and Alfred, who were born with albinism, have been able to get special prescription glasses thanks to Sightsavers’ Nigeria Child Eye Health Project.
Albinism is characterised by a lack of a pigment, and causes eye problems and aversion to sunlight. Their condition meant they could not play outside for long periods and were struggling to see the blackboard at school. Alfred said: “I like playing football, but don’t do so often because I cannot be under the sun for long.”
A neighbour told Peace and Alfred’s mother, Godiya, about the programme, and the eye health team reached out to the family and referred the children for a sight test. Because of the severity of their vision impairment, they were given specially made prescription lenses.
“I am so happy that my children have been given glasses: this will make their lives better,” said Godiya. The project is funded by People’s Postcode Lottery, Spectrum Markets and AG Leventis Foundation. More from Nigeria
Sightsavers joined organisations of people with disabilities to successfully lobby the Senegalese government to distribute essential aid kits to families during the COVID-19 lockdown.
As part of the initiative, more than 61,000 families of people with disabilities were given food, oil and soap.
One person who was hit hard by the lockdown in Dakar was Diarra Thioubou, who is blind. She was left with no income after her business selling homemade snacks was forced to close. “Sometimes, my children and I would not eat all day or only have one meal,” she explained. “I even thought of begging in the street, but I had to set a good example.” She said without the kit, the year would have been “catastrophic”.
Sightsavers’ work in Senegal, funded by Irish Aid, aims to ensure people with disabilities can participate in political processes and influence the government to provide necessary services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sightsavers and partners also advocated for people with disabilities to join the government’s national unique register, which selects welfare benefit recipients. To date, 20,507 people with disabilities have been registered. More from Senegal
In Nigeria, the SMILE project (Supporting Mainstreaming Inclusion so all can Learn Equally) is working with management committees at eight schools to encourage parents of children with disabilities to enrol them in school. Working with the community has increased trust in the schools among local families, and has improved attendance rates among pupils.
The initiative is part of the Inclusive Futures programme, which is testing innovative ways to improve inclusion for people with disabilities.
AA Awokson, head teacher at Wazari Aliyu primary school, says: “The things we have done have encouraged others to come. Parents realise that if their children will be given respect at that school, let’s get them enrolled there. Before this, many parents would prefer leaving them at home or sending them begging.”
Christy John Daniel, head teacher at Taka One Model Primary School, says the project has had a huge impact, encouraging more children with disabilities to learn and improve their future opportunities. “We use the committee to speak to parents on the importance of children with disabilities being in school,” Christy says. “We have sewing machines and tools for carpentry. We can teach them vocational skills so they can be self-reliant – they will not depend on their parents for life.”
Inclusive Futures will share what it has learned to help the Nigerian government improve its approach to inclusive education, and hopes to replicate the programme in other areas. More from Nigeria