On track to good vision

Grade five student Destiny Armstrong from Queensland undergoing school vision screening this year.

Eye health charity Essilor Vision Foundation has teamed up with local optometrists to donate more than 1,000 pairs of free glasses to school-children in need and babies nationwide.

The foundation arranges vision screening at schools by volunteer optometrists and optometry students. Children who need further assessment are referred to local optometrists who bulk bill for the consultations and if spectacles are required, the foundation pays for them.

In line with the foundation’s goals to enable access for those in need, the primary schools are mostly in lower socio-economic areas.

CEO Greg Johnson said that since the program had started two years ago, 875 pairs of free glasses had been given to children and 127 pairs of aphakic spectacles had been donated to babies born with cataract. These special glasses allow for improved vision as their eyes develop after cataract removal.

It’s not just glasses that children have received from the program, as the optometrists’ examinations have also detected other eye health problems requiring treatment or monitoring.

Geelong optometrist Alissa Maillet who is involved with the program said many of the students had never seen an optometrist or had an eye examination.

Geelong optometrist Alissa Maillet

One-third of primary school students who recently underwent screening at nine schools in Geelong by Deakin University optometry students and senior Deakin optometrists, were referred to local optometrists for a full assessment. A City of Greater Geelong Council grant helped fund the program, and further funding has extended it to some local secondary schools.

Screening is also taking place throughout a large part of South-West Queensland thanks to Australia’s largest rail freight operator Aurizon awarding a grant under the Aurizon Community Giving Fund.

The Aurizon School Vision Screening Program is targeting mainly primary schools in Chinchilla, Brigalow, Dalby, Jondaryan, Oakey, Murphy’s Creek, Helidon, Ashwell, Grandchester, Kogan and Wilsonton in Toowoomba.

Aurizon trains pass by these communities daily as they connect miners, primary producers and industry with international and domestic markets.

Aurizon - locomotive hauling coal North Qld

Mr Johnson said screening had predominantly been in major cities but Aurizon had given the foundation the opportunity to take the program to places it had never thought of visiting.

Screening started in August by Queensland University of Technology final year optometry students under supervision of volunteer local optometrists including Tom Roger of Eyecare Plus, Chinchilla.

Aurizon’s Regional Operations Manager based in Toowoomba Kev Taske said the company was delighted to fund the program as Aurizon valued health and wellbeing and understood programs like this were important in identifying potential issues early.

Adults have also benefited from the Essilor Vision Foundation program and since it began, more than 9,000 patients have been screened, 4,000 spectacles have been dispensed and more than 200 volunteers including optometrists and optometry students have taken part.

Senior Lecturer in Optometry at Deakin University, Dr Geoff Sampson, left, and optometry student Ben Eskander testing a primary school student in Geelong

The foundation has gifted 1,489 pairs of glasses to Indigenous adults, 1,192 to disadvantaged adults, 591 to adult migrants/refugees and 64 pairs to adults with mental illness.

People in Fiji, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea have also received 2,701 pairs of glasses.

Mr Johnson urged principals of other local schools with an interest in the program to contact him on 0498 015 230 or at greg.johnson@essilorvisionfoundation.org.au The Foundation is a registered charity. People and organisations who would like to make a tax-deductible donation to its works can contact Mr Johnson.

With one in five Australian children living with an undetected vision problem, Optometry Australia is also urging parents to get their children's eyes examined. Find an optometrist in your area.

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