Eye Health Programme for Disadvantaged Children
Glasses shaping a better future
According to the latest reports from the Spanish High Commissioner for the Fight against Child Poverty, there are around 1,400,000 children living in severe poverty in Spain, and 2,200,000 at risk of poverty, making us one of the industrialised countries with the highest child poverty rate. Unfortunately, child poverty has many faces, the difficulty in accessing quality health care being one of them.
For this reason, the IMO Foundation provides free eye examinations to children at risk of social exclusion, thus preventing pathologies such as refractive errors, amblyopia or strabismus from going unnoticed. These diseases can hinder their school, personal and social development, making it impossible for schoolchildren to improve their situation in the future and break the cycle of poverty. Moreover, vision that is not gained during childhood cannot be recovered after the end of the visual development period (around 8-10 years).
Therefore, the earlier vision problems are detected, the more effective their treatment will be, which is also provided free of charge by the programme. In order to guarantee a correct adhesion and to closely control the evolution of the schoolchildren, the team of volunteers of the IMO Foundation goes every 6 months to different esplais and schools in Catalonia and Madrid, where they act to offer follow-up, which in turn allows for a progressive increase in the preventive culture of the environment.
After starting in 2013 in Badalona, the Eye Health Programme for Disadvantaged Children reached other areas of the Barcelona metropolitan area in 2014, and in 2015 it reached the province of Tarragona and the district of Carabanchel in Madrid for the first time, following the social need detected by Càritas Catalunya and the CaixaProinfancia programme of Obra Social "la Caixa", respectively. Until 2018, the work carried out in these areas was continued and new schools were incorporated. In 2019, the programme was extended to two new areas of action: Lleida and Terrassa. All of this has allowed the consolidation of the project, which in 2020 faces its 7th year having made it possible to carry out more than 7,200 free eye check-ups, from which more than 1,300 new diagnoses have been made and around 1,700 free treatments prescribed, including: glasses, eye occlusions, surgeries and medical treatments.
The high percentage of children with visual problems that had not been previously diagnosed, around 22%, motivates the continuity of the initiative, which has already been integrated into the routine of schools and esplais in the neighbourhoods 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 began in 2013, was supported by Obra social "la Caixa", within the CaixaProInfancia program, until 2018. Since 2014, Càritas Catalunya has also joined as a collaborator. In 2018, the project wins a grant in the call for aid from the Ordesa Foundation to "improve the quality of life, health and nutrition of children without resources and at risk of social exclusion". Moreover, the involvement of local agents is another key to its success, since coordinated action between local entities, schools, CAPS and social services allows to offer comprehensive eye care to children during the period of greatest importance for visual development (from 4 to 8 years). In 2019, it received support from Barcelona City Council through a grant to continue improving the vision and quality of life of schoolchildren at risk of social exclusion.
In 2019, the IMO Foundation's Eye Health Programme for Disadvantaged Children closed with 1,524 free eye examinations (687 first visits and 837 follow-up checks), distributed over 7 campaigns in Barcelona (Nou Barris), Badalona, Tarragona, Hospitalet, Terrassa, Lleida and Madrid.
As a result of these actions, 261 eye diseases have been detected among the new schoolchildren taking part in the programme, which had gone unnoticed until now. These schoolchildren are referred by the professionals at each centre, a key element in detecting vision problems among the most vulnerable students. The most frequent diagnoses are refractive defects (myopia, hyperopia and astigmatism), followed by "lazy eye" and strabismus, also very common in childhood. In addition, the follow-up of two visits a year offered in the project's development areas has made it possible to closely monitor the evolution of the students who were already part of the programme and, with it, to detect another 48 cases of new pathologies in the students who had already been visited. This is due to the fact that the vision is in the process of formation during the first decade of life and changes are common.
It is therefore important to ensure appropriate treatment according to the visual needs of the youngest, which has also been provided free of charge by the Eye Health in Disadvantaged Children Programme, with 273 eye corrections, 36 patch occlusions and 11 medical treatments. These new treatments are in addition to the maintenance of 307 glasses in schoolchildren who have not had to change their prescription.
The continuity of the IMO Foundation project has made it possible to increase the preventive culture and achieve greater involvement of the schoolchildren's environment, which is key to promoting the diagnosis of hidden pathology with free eye check-ups and adherence to prescribed treatments. In this sense, the 2019 report "The state of children's visual health in Spain: how it has changed since 2016", presented by the public utility association Visión y Vida, states that almost half of the school children in Spain could have an uncorrected vision problem (56.3%), since they have failed one or more screening tests, while only one in ten families suspects it (11.4%). These data contrasts positively with those obtained in our campaigns, since of the total number of children visited for the first time during 2019, only 17% presented hidden visual pathologies. This improvement is due, in part, to our continued action since 2013, which through informative talks for families and the commitment of the teaching team, has managed to increase awareness of eye pathologies in children. This small victory motivates us to continue with this project in 2020, which has already changed the lives of more than 4,000 children.