ST JOHN’S, Antigua – An optometrist, at the launch of Lions Club Eye Screening in Schools programme yesterday, stressed that early intervention is crucial to the ocular health of the nation’s youth.
“So many times, in our offices, children come in at a late stage … and we find they have perfectly healthy non-seeing eyes and that is a result of not correcting their vision problems at an early age,” optometrist Dr Salem Zreibi said.
The doctor described “non-seeing eyes” as a condition called amblyopia, or a lazy eye, where the eye is healthy, but does not function properly.
“When there is not a balance between both eyes, that eye that is blurry or turned in ends up becoming lazy. The brain does not connect to that eye and it uses only the good eye and fails to use the bad eye,” the optometrist noted.
According to Dr Zreibi, the critical period for vision testing is before the age of nine, when vision can more readily be manipulated and improved with glasses or eye muscle therapy.
“The brain will then lock in that perfect vision, but if you wait until the child passes age of nine, there is less chances that we can correct that vision,” Zreibi emphasised.
The optometrist sought to dispel long held misconceptions that children do not need ocular screening, saying, “We are still a society that believes that young children don’t need glasses; that needing glasses is something that happens after 40 … People believe children don’t need eye exams … We need to change that mindset.”
Five optometrists, including Dr Jillia Bird, Dr Byron Andrew, Dr Glenn Edwards and optometrist assistant Jamilla Fabian along with Dr Zreibi, have volunteered their services to perform screenings of children’s vision in 28 schools.
Lions Club representatives said that the services rendered by the volunteers would have amounted to US $30,000.
The Lions Club of Antigua, in association with the Ministry of Education, initiated the Eye Screening in Schools programme.
The initiative will offer over 1,100, first and sixth grade students in 28 government primary school with free ocular examinations.
Children who are found to have eye conditions will then receive referrals for treatment. The programme will continue through the end of the year and be held annually.