In 2007 when I started my career in the eye care sector, my three sons were ages 8, 10, and 12. While that might not seem important, it was a critical time in the development of their eyes. Like many parents around the world, I took them to their pediatrician regularly, and all my sons had the necessary medical interventions – except eye exams. In fact, it wasn’t until the Essilor Vision Foundation launched in 2008 that I truly realized the benefits of early eye exams for children.
I grew up with perfect eyesight, as did my parents. My first eye exam was at 16 years old when I was having trouble with eye strain in class. At their first eye exams, all three of my sons needed vision correction. Two were diagnosed with myopia, and one had serious astigmatism that caused constant motion sickness and headaches. At the time, I was shocked and saddened that my children had suffered unnecessarily when a complete solution was within reach.
Vision correction and intervention on behalf of our children is quite possibly the most effective change we could make to impact the world’s vision problem.
Years later, I still find myself shaken by the fact that in many places, our world’s children lack access to proper vision care. Affordable solutions exist, and so many in our vision care sector are dedicated to changing the landscape for children. Why then do we still struggle to address this serious global need?
Organizations focused on addressing children’s health and wellness have often relied on schools as a leading place of intervention. Weaving vision services into the fabric of whole child health within school systems has proven successful for decades, and the School Eye Health Guidelines developed by IAPB member organizations over the past few years have proven a successful model by which we can address this crisis in developing countries around the world.
When schools were upended by the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, advocates for children’s vision had to take a step back and reassess how to still provide necessary eye care services. We were reminded that we cannot expect the classroom to be our only channel for reaching kids, when many may never return to traditional learning models. Collectively, we are now developing guidelines for expanded care and delivery models – thinking outside the classroom.
A 2019 report commissioned by Essilor, which provides an evidence-based plan using analytical support from McKinsey & Company, clarifies the investments needed to eliminate refractive errors by 2050 across the world’s population. It suggests that a $14 billion investment in key areas such as awareness-building, innovation of low-cost automated screening tools, and creation of sustainable access points, in tandem with philanthropic efforts to equip those unable to pay for services, would allow the eye care sector to equip 90 percent of the population in need. Quite simply, the solution to ensure a world that sees clearly is within reach.
My 3-year-old grandson was recently diagnosed with myopia and will require vision correction soon to slow its progression. Had I not become aware of the need for early eye exams fifteen years ago – and had his parents not both understood through their own personal experiences – he might have become a statistic instead of a success story.
Imagine what we could achieve if we placed our collective efforts squarely on eliminating poor vision for the world’s girls and boys. If we effectively scaled up interventions on their behalf first, the ripple effect created could theoretically improve economies, reduce poverty, address gender disparities, contribute to safer roads, build more productive workplaces, and enhance the overall quality of life for everyone.
By ensuring clear vision for one generation, we can and will positively affect the futures of generations to follow.