Eye health programme for disadvantaged children
Fostering a preventative culture
Through early diagnosis campaigns in schools and youth organisations in vulnerable areas of Catalonia and Madrid, the IMO Foundation carries out free eye examinations with the aim of preventing the most common eye disorders in childhood – such as refractive errors, amblyopia and strabismus – from going unnoticed. This is fundamental not only for ensuring the proper integration and educational achievement of children, but also to lay the foundations for good eye health in adulthood, since vision that is not gained during childhood cannot be recovered after the period of visual development (around the age of 8-10).
Therefore, the sooner visual problems are detected, the more effective the treatment, which the programme is also responsible for providing at no cost. To ensure proper adherence and to closely monitor the evolution of the schoolchildren, the IMO Foundation’s team of volunteers revisits the areas every 6 months to provide follow-up, which also helps to gradually improve the preventative culture of the environment.
After starting in 2013 in Badalona, the eye health programme for disadvantaged children expanded to other areas in the metropolitan area of Barcelona in 2014 and, in 2015, arrived for the first time in the province of Tarragona and the Madrid district of Carabanchel, as a result of social needs detected by Càritas Catalunya and La Caixa’s ProInfància programme, respectively. In 2018 the work carried out in these areas was continued and new schools were added, while in 2019 the programme has been extended to two new areas of action: Lleida and Terrassa. All this has allowed the consolidation of the project, which is facing its 7th year having made it possible to carry out 6,500 eye examinations, from which more than 1,130 new diagnoses have been carried out and 1,350 free treatments have been prescribed.
The high percentage of children with visual problems that had not been previously diagnosed, around 25%, motivates the continuity of the initiative, which has already been integrated into the routine of schools and esplais in the neighborhoods of Sant Roc (Badalona), Nou Barris (Barcelona), Pubilla Cases (Hospitalet), Bonavista (Tarragona), Carabanchel (Madrid), La Mariola (Lleida) and Can Anglada (Terrassa).
The importance of working as part of a network
The project, which started in 2013, had the support of Obra social "la Caixa", within the CaixaProInfancia programme, until 2018. Since 2014, Càritas Catalunya has also joined as a collaborator. In 2018, the project received a grant from Fundació Ordesa to "improve the quality of life, health and nutrition of children without resources and at risk of social exclusion". In addition, the involvement of local agents is another key to its success, since the coordinated action between local entities, schools, CAPS and social services makes it possible to offer comprehensive ophthalmological care to children during the period of greatest importance for visual development (from 4 to 8 years).
In 2018, the IMO Foundation's Eye health programme for disadvantaged children closed with 1,173 free eye examinations (559 first examinations and 614 follow-up checks), distributed in 6 campaigns in El Prat de Llobregat, Badalona, Tarragona, Madrid, Nou Barris and Hospitalet.
Eye examinations in 2018 by operating locations
As a result of these actions, 137 vision problems have been detected among the new schoolchildren who have taken part in the programme, the most frequent diagnoses being refractive errors (myopia, hypermetropia and astigmatism), followed by "lazy eye" and strabismus, also very common in childhood. Likewise, the two follow-up visits offered per year in the different areas of development of the project have allowed us to closely monitor the evolution of children who already formed part of the programme and, with this, to detect 57 other cases of pathology, since the vision is in the process of formation during the first decade of life and it is habitual for changes to take place.
This is why it is important to guarantee an adequate treatment according to the visual needs of the youngest, which the Eye health programme for disadvantaged children has also been in charge of providing free of charge. In fact, a total of 220 optical corrections, 23 occlusions with patches and 2 strabismus surgeries were provided in 2018. These new treatments are in addition to the maintenance of 213 glasses in schoolchildren who have not required to modify their prescription.
The continuity of the IMO Foundation project, thanks to the sustained participation of Obra Social "la Caixa" and Càritas Catalunya in 2018, has made it possible to increase the preventive culture and achieve greater involvement of the schoolchildren's environment, key to promoting the diagnosis of hidden pathologies with free eye examinations and adherence to prescribed treatments. In this sense, Badalona, the city where the Eye health programme for disadvantaged children was launched in 2013, was a pioneer in 2017 by incorporating informative talks to families about children's eye health and main pathologies, as it is the area where the greatest number of children with undetected visual problems have been found (40% of the new check-ups). These figures considerably exceed the programme's annual average, as of the total number of children visited for the first time during 2018, 25% presented hidden visual pathologies.
On the other hand, the average child population of 13.5% -according to data from Fundación IMO- is also well below this annual balance between disadvantaged children, which coincides with that obtained globally in the six years of the programme's trajectory and which reveals that 1 out of every 4 children in a situation of vulnerability presents vision problems that had gone unnoticed in general check-ups in primary care centres.
Diagnoses in first examinations during 2018