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Bringing better vision to children in Ethiopia through a new School Eye Health programme

A girl receives her glasses as part of the CBM-Peek School Eye Health Programme in Ethiopia.

Credit: ALERT Hospital

A new School Eye Health programme is underway in the Kolfe Keranio sub-district of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as part of the partnership between CBM Christian Blind Mission and Peek Vision. It is the first CBM-Peek programme to launch in the country and is being implemented by ALERT Hospital in collaboration with district health and education authorities. 

The programme aims to reduce the prevalence of visual impairment and avoidable blindness among school-going children in Addis Ababa, by strengthening eye health systems in order to provide more accessible and equitable eye care services. 

Since launching in June, initially in two schools, the programme has received strong support from the school principals and parents, with 90% screening coverage across the initial target population (1906 children screened in total). Based on this success, a further school is being added to the programme, and there are plans to scale further in new schools and health centres in the sub-district in the coming months.

Eye health screening is carried out in schools by designated teachers, health extension workers and health care providers trained to use Peek’s smartphone-based tools. In the initial two schools, 11% of children screened were identified with an eye problem and referred for follow-up. 99% of those referred had their vision problems confirmed during triage, demonstrating that the screeners are able to accurately identify eye problems using the Peek Capture app.

Dr Solomon Bussa, Ophthalmologist and Head of ALERT’s Secondary Eye Unit, welcomed the programme: “This is a remarkable project using smartphone technology in which screening can take place without the need for specialist eye health professionals. The initiative benefits both school children and health professionals alike. It enables us to identify children with eye health problems early so they can receive corrective treatment or glasses. Better vision will improve their quality of life and inspire them for further developments.” 

Previously in the sub-district, there was extremely limited capacity for eye care services to be provided at the primary level, meaning children with eye problems had to travel to be seen at ALERT Hospital or Menelik Hospital.

The new CBM-Peek programme is integrating eye health into existing health services. Children identified by screeners as requiring basic treatment or services are referred to local health centres which are much closer and easier for communities to access. Only those with refractive error or more complex ophthalmic conditions are referred to ALERT Hospital or on to Menelik hospital for the most specialised services. The majority of children (90%) who were examined at the health centres had their needs met there, while only 10% required a referral to hospital. It is hoped this will help free up specialist hospital capacity.

Teamer Misganaw, Eye Health Programme Coordinator for CBM Ethiopia, said: “As the programme started it was a joyful moment to see the children have their vision screened and be referred for further treatment at health facilities when a problem was identified. Using Peek will help us get eye care to many children in areas where it is difficult to access.”

The Peek system incorporates features that have been shown in published research to encourage adherence to follow-up appointments. Parents or carers of children who are referred for follow-up receive personalised SMS reminder messages. The school also receives an SMS list of the children in their school who require further support. Currently in the programme, approximately 75% of children are attending their follow-up appointments. 

Hulda Nduru, Peek Programme Management Lead, said: “We’re excited to be delivering a programme with our partner CBM in Ethiopia for the first time. Correcting a child’s vision can make a profound difference to their education and consequently to their life chances. We hope that by integrating eye care into front line health services and implementing school screening using Peek, we can bring better vision to many more children in the region.”

Peek is currently powering programmes in partnership with CBM in multiple other countries in Africa and Asia, as well as with Vision for a Nation in Ghana.