Childhood blindness

Giving children the eye care they need to realise their potential

For children and babies with sight loss, the effects can be life-long. Many schoolchildren report struggling to see the blackboard or read their books, and some withdraw from school altogether. Education is often the only way out of poverty for children in disadvantaged communities. 

We work with partners around the world to share specialist paediatric ophthalmology skills, knowledge and experience with local eye care teams. Often, a straightforward surgery to remove a cataract or correct a squint, or even a prescription for glasses, can be the catalyst for a child to pursue their hopes and dreams.


Much of our partners’ sight-saving work with children took place in Nepal in 2021. 

Since 2016, Orbis India has played a leading role in the Refractive Error Among Children (REACH) programme. 

REACH is an innovative model that identifies and treats children with refractive error. It provides glasses where necessary and allows users to manage each patient’s screening, referral and treatment journey on a bespoke database (REACHSoft). 

This year, our programmes adapted to pandemic restrictions, applying a ‘dual screening’ approach by visiting children in their homes and at school. We retained the approach once schools had reopened to make sure as many children as possible were screened. 

In Province 1, despite the challenges of school closures, Orbis partners achieved 95% of their screening target, 164% of their prescriptions target, and 123% of their surgery target. Female Community Health Volunteers (FCHVs), who are skilled in engaging parents and children about the importance of good eye health, were key to reaching people in their homes.

Meanwhile, in the final quarter alone, the project teams visited 142 schools and screened nearly 60,000 children, leading to 3,736 prescriptions for glasses and 40 critical eye operations. Once prescribed glasses, it can be challenging to make sure children wear them. 

There remains a stigma around needing glasses, and children with refractive error are often teased and excluded from social groups. This year, Orbis-funded teams provided counselling and raised awareness in-person and over the phone to combat these issues. Overall, 64% of children in Province 1 were wearing their new glasses correctly, which is encouraging considering the disruption caused by pandemic restrictions.

A young boy in Nepal has his vision tested.

A conversation with Sarita, REACH optometrist

Sarita's story

As well as providing sight-saving children’s screenings, treatments and referrals for surgery, the REACH programme also provides training and job opportunities for eye care professionals.

Sarita qualified as an optometrist in 2019 and is now employed on the REACH programme in Nepal. On the day Orbis caught up with her, she had screened 401 children and conducted 5-10 detailed examinations.

"I feel proud because my career is starting with this project, and I’m learning about paediatrics. I’m also doing such good things, like social work."

Sarita, an optometrist with the REACH programme

Can you tell us how REACH works?

"REACH is different. We are going to so many screenings, child screening. REACH is comprehensive, beyond comprehensive. With REACH, we follow up. We are giving the spectacles, then after three months, we check compliance because if they don’t use, our time and our effort will be useless. So REACH is different from others.”

Do the children you see understand about eye care?

"[Children] worry – 'we will get the spectacles now our friends will tease us, I don’t want the spectacles.' They force themselves to look normal – 'I can see better than without the spectacles.' That is the problem, and we have to convince them because I am wearing spectacles it is good for us."

And what about parents? Are they worried they might have to pay?

"It is a big problem. We have to convince them that this is normal – not only your children, others also. 'Even I’m using spectacles,' we use this to convince the parents. We used to call the parents in the government school, and we have to force them – 'Please bring, all spectacles we will give free'. Then only they bring.

Why do you think vision is so important?

“Vision is important. Right to sight for everyone is important. For normal life, for living standard and for better education, for better career. Vision is most important.”