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Myopia can be seen as the root of delinquency

Priyanca Radhakrishnan – This newspaper needs-Priyanca Radhakrishnan

I started wearing glasses at the age of seven.

My first pair, lovingly chosen by my mother, was baby pink and incredibly thick.

I was delighted at the prospect of wearing glasses – such a grown-up thing to do.

My mother was significantly less excited that her child was so severely shortsighted at a very young age.

She asked me why I had not mentioned to her or to my teacher that I was struggling to see people and objects. I remember telling her that I just thought that vision loss was a part of growing up; because, after all, my parents and all my grandparents wore glasses!

Although I had been struggling to read what was on the blackboard, it did not occur to me to mention it to anyone or ask for help.

It was only through the routine school eye-screening programme that everyone realised that I was quite shortsighted.

Anecdotal evidence

Anecdotal evidence indicates that there are a number of children in New Zealand who are possibly going through what I did, and are not telling anyone that they are struggling to see or read.

Many are finding it hard to achieve at school because they have eyesight problems.

myopia-can-be-seen-as-essilor-vision-foundation-web

Essilor Vision Foundation

The Essilor Vision Foundation has been offering free vision testing to children in low decile schools for over a year. Since the pilot programme at a Hawke’s Bay decile one school in 2015, the Foundation has tested about 600 children from low decile Auckland schools and found that more than one in seven need glasses.

The Foundation also offers free testing and free glasses for children under 16 years. According to Kumuda Setty, a Trustee of the Foundation, these statistics are similar to statistics in developing countries.

This raises concerns that thousands of other school children could be living with undiagnosed eyesight conditions.

It is a worry because there is a clear link between vision and academic achievement.

International research indicates that about 80% of children’s learning is visual.

On September 3, 2016, the Foundation partnered with the New Zealand Kannada Koota (an association for people from the South Indian State of Karnataka) to pilot a community vision-screening programme. Ninety Kannada Koota members were screened in the first screening offered to adult migrants.

Strategic partnership

I attended this screening on behalf of Louisa Wall, Labour MP for Manurewa and Patron of the Foundation. It was a privilege to learn more about the partnership between the Foundation and Kannada Koota, the support from optometrists like Campbell and Campbell and final year Optometry students from Auckland University who were also supporting the initiative.

I learned about some of the barriers to accessing eyesight testing.

Cost is an obvious one, and as income inequality increases, parents are often forced to work two or even three jobs to make ends meet. There is no time to take the children to have their eyes tested!

Barriers to testing

Lack of awareness of the need for vision screening is another barrier.

Many migrants wait till their annual visit back home to get their eyes and teeth checked. I relate to this because I fall squarely into that category!

Quality of healthcare in India can be compared to New Zealand standards, and is much cheaper. However, conditions are very different between the two countries, such that the lenses you get there may not protect your eyes from specific New Zealand conditions. For example, Ultraviolet intensities in the New Zealand summer are extreme on the international UV Index scale.

So, while it is cheaper to buy your glasses in India, you may not be getting the protection you need in New Zealand.

There was also talk of stigma attached to wearing glasses and parents not wanting to acknowledge that their children may be shortsighted.

Here’s the thing – it’s not optional. If your child cannot see properly, it is likely to affect his or her educational achievement and potentially, even impact later in life.

Young Offenders

Let us consider the issue of youth offending.

According to former Principal Youth Court judge Andrew Becroft, the top 20% of youth offenders come from seriously deprived backgrounds with fathers who might be in prison and mothers who have trouble monitoring links with education.

In the United Kingdom, 23% to 32% of Youth Court attendees have learning disabilities compared to 2% to 4% of the general population.

There is significant research on the correlation between learning disabilities and juvenile delinquency.

There is evidence to suggest that children with undiagnosed vision problems are often mistakenly branded as delinquents.

It may not then be a complete leap of logic to wonder whether undiagnosed vision problems may lead to low educational achievements, perceived delinquency and sooner rather than later, actual delinquency.

Priyanca Radhakrishnan is a voracious reader, champions social and community causes and is a strong advocate of ethnic and gender diversity in corporate governance and in public life. She is a Member of the Labour Party Policy Council and lives in Auckland.

If your community organisation is doing something interesting and you would like her to visit, please write to priyanca02@gmail.com

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