The Countess of Wessex has encouraged people to get their eyes checked this World Sight Day as she visited children with learning disabilities at a London school while they received a sight test.
Sophie, 56, who lives with Prince Edward, 57, at their Surrey home, Bagshot Park, with their children Lady Louise Windsor, 17, and James Viscount Severn, 13, stepped out at Perseid School to see pupils having their eyes tested thanks to UK Charity SeeAbility.
The school works with children and young people, aged 3-19, who have special educational needs and learning disabilities.
Sophie, who is a global ambassador for the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) and Patron of Vision Foundation, praised the vision sector for ‘really coming together over the years’ and ‘easily’ sharing the ‘best practices’.
World Sight Day is an international day of awareness held every October to focus attention on the global issue of eye health.
The royal shared her support for the #LoveYourEyes campaign, run by IAPB, this World Sight Day, which is encouraging people to book a sight test.
She said last Thursday: ‘The key thing I have learnt with all my work from Vision 2020 and IAPB is that the vision sector has really come together over the years, especially for World Sight Day.
‘What is really inspiring to see, is that best practices are so easily shared through IAPB. These best practices can hopefully influence everything else and improve the lives of millions around the world who have poor vision.’
A recent study found that in the UK almost 3,000 people are estimated to have lost vision due to delays in the identification and treatment of eye disease, and 4.3million fewer people received sight tests in 2020, compared to 2019.
The tests witnessed by the Countess of Wessex were provided by SeeAbility, a UK based charity that specialises in supporting people who have learning disabilities or autism, many of whom have sight loss.
Children with learning disabilities are 28 times more likely to have a sight problem than other children.
Its work has revealed half of children in special schools will have a problem with their vision, yet 44 per cent of them have no history of eye care. The tests carried out are part of the NHS England special schools eye care service.
The ambition of NHS England’s Eye Care programme is to eventually improve access to eye care services for all people with a learning disability or who are autistic to enable them to live the lives they want to live.
Tina Harvey, Executive Headteacher at Perseid School said: ‘Perseid was the very first school to partner with SeeAbility back in 2013.
‘It was ground-breaking at the time to bring full sight tests and glasses dispensing into special schools, now it is multi-award winning and the NHS is planning its own programme nationally in all special schools.
‘The difference the project has made to our children is profound – especially for the children who had never had a sight test and were found to need glasses. Many were living their lives in a total blur before.
‘Now those pupils are happier, more able to learn, feel less frustrated and have higher self-esteem. It was a pleasure to speak to Her Royal Highness about the benefits we have seen.’
Those involved in the #LoveYourEyes campaign say the need for people to get their sight checked is more apparent now than ever, with the pandemic and worldwide lockdowns leading to more time spent on screens, less time spent outdoors, and missed sight tests.
IAPB warns half the world’s population will be short-sighted by 2050. Up to one fifth of those are at significant risk of blindness if current trends continue, according to IAPB.
A study in China found the number of children being diagnosed with short-sightedness doubled in 2020 compared to 2019.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) is backing the campaign encouraging people to get sight checked and offering advice on how to #LoveYourEyes.
Alarcos Cieza, Unit Head for Vision, Disability and Rehabilitation at the WHO said: ‘The last year has been incredibly tough on people, and it has been tough on their eyes too.
‘We have found ourselves spending more time looking at screens, spending less time outside, and we have also had to miss sight check-ups.
‘However, there are a few easy things we can do to show our eyes and our loved ones’ eyes, especially our children’s, some extra care.
‘Firstly, book an eye test. Prevention really is better than cure and an eye test often helps detect issues (beyond just your eyesight) before you may notice them yourself.
‘Secondly, follow the 20-20-20 rule. This means taking a 20-second break to view something 20 feet away every 20 minutes when using devices.
‘Thirdly, encourage your child (children) to play outside regularly and spend at least 90 minutes each day outside. This will give your child a screen break and allow them to focus on different distances and spend time in natural light which can help keep your child’s eyes healthy.
‘Finally, it is important to wear your glasses as instructed by your eye health professional. It isn’t true that glasses make your vision worse. They will not only help to see clearly but help prevent eyes from straining to see things.’
Peter Holland, CEO of IAPB said: ‘The success of this year’s World Sight Day and our Love Your Eyes campaign has been unparalleled, and I’ve been delighted and proud of what we have done together.
‘Every test pledged, every screening held, and every social media message sent has meant that we were able to reach more people than ever before with over 3million pledging to love their eyes.
‘But the scale of the challenge we face is immense. The pandemic struck a massive blow to global eye health, and we must continue to act to save millions from unnecessary blindness.’