USAID Blindness Program Assists One Million Children in 23 Countries

For Immediate Release

Tuesday, March 3, 2009
USAID Press Office
202-712-4320

WASHINGTON, D.C. - In the past year, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Child Blindness Program assisted over one million people through eye health education, comprehensive vision screening, refractive error correction, sight-restoring surgery, and education for blind children.

USAID has supported programs to reduce childhood blindness since 1991. This year, 31 projects reached over one million people in 23 countries. Together, these projects screened 950,000 children and 61,000 adults-many of whom are teachers in school-based eye health programs. In countries like Niger, India, Nepal and Tanzania, USAID grantees are expanding access to eye care and improving vision for thousands in hard-to-reach communities.

There are 17 million children in the world with low vision or blurred eye sight. Children with inadequate vision often drop out of school when they cannot see the blackboard or letters in a book, and suffer the lifelong consequences of low education. The majority of these children experience refractive errors that can be corrected with glasses. This year, USAID supported programs in 10 countries that have distributed over 11,000 pairs of eyeglasses to children.

USAID Global Health Bureau Deputy Assistant Administrator Gloria Steele highlights the role of USAID's partners: "From supporting global leaders in eye care like Aravind Eye Care System in India to community-based screening programs like that of Seva Foundation in Nepal, USAID and our partners are leading the way in expanding access to social and educational opportunities for children with vision impairments in the developing world."

One of USAID's grantees, VisionSpring, is innovating approaches to delivering eye glasses to people with refractive error. VisionSpring trains vision entrepreneurs to screen adults and children and sell a variety of low-cost glasses. In addition to providing access to eye care in rural Indian communities, these vision entrepreneurs are earning income and are better able to support their own families. Rama Devi, a vision entrepreneur in Mahbubnagar, used to sell her handiwork for around $44 a month-barely enough to care for her husband and two children. She joined VisionSpring's program in 2006, and now earns over $100 every month selling reading glasses.

Some children require more intensive care, and now have affordable access to hospital services through USAID's Child Blindness Program. With high-quality surgical and post-operative care, USAID grantees restored sight to 921 children in 10 countries this year.

Nine-year-old Ashis Tamang was one of these children. Unable to see out of his right eye due a cataract, he was at high risk for dropping out of school when Seva Foundation, funded by USAID, conducted a screening program at his school in Chitwan, Nepal. Seva immediately referred Ashis to Bharatphur Eye Hospital, where he underwent cataract surgery. After surgery, with perfect vision in his right eye, he told Seva that he stood first in his class, and wants to try to get even better scores.

For the five million children who are blind, mobility and educational training can create a lifetime of opportunities. Kean, who is 6 years old from the Philippines, lost his sight shortly after birth, and was diagnosed with autism when he was 2 after he failed to develop verbal skills. Kean is now receiving therapy services at Resources for the Blind in the Philippines, a Perkins School for the Blind partner supported by USAID since 2006. For the first time in his life, he is able to talk and play with other children. Overjoyed with his progress, Kean's mother has enrolled him in elementary school.

In many countries, blind children are neglected and never receive opportunities to engage in society or education systems. With the help of USAID, grantees like Perkins are putting these systems within reach, so more children like Kean can live full and productive lives.

For more information about USAID and its child survival programs, visit http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/global_health/.

Last updated: August 28, 2014

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