One group that falls through the cracks the most is children, and that is where our first pursuit begins.
Amblyopia is also known as lazy eye and is a vision development disorder that begins during infancy or early childhood. This disorder stops the affected eye from achieving normal visual acuity, even with prescribed glasses and contact lenses. It is therefore very important to diagnose this visual impairment early, as the consequences of amblyopia are far reaching in terms of learning and confidence. Left untreated, lazy eye can cause serious visual impairments to the affected eye, and could even result in blindness.
We know that there is a group of families that do not qualify for the government subsidy, but several hundred dollars for eye examinations and glasses is a significant financial burden for them to bear. In other instances, the government subsidy is not enough to cover a complex prescription, thus failing to adequately provide to many in need.
The Eye Institute Community Trust will be officially launched on 22 May 2018 and, over the next 12 months, we aim to identify children with the greatest risk of permanent vision impairment due to Amblyopia, and provide assistance to families by funding 400 eye examinations and a subsidy of up to $250 towards glasses.
The funding of glasses in the first instance are for children only and in particular those who are at greatest risk of permanent vision impairment due to the development of amblyopia in the Auckland region.
We have made preliminary enquiries with orthoptic departments of both Auckland and Manukau District Health Boards to identify children at highest risk of visual loss but Vision and Hearing professionals screen all school age children and are ideally placed along with primary school teachers to identify these children in the community. We envision that a coded voucher system will be used to give directly to guardians of children who need assistance. This will then be taken to an optometrist of the guardians choice and the subsidy will be made available via Eye Institute.
Once the 400 subsidies are distributed, the Trust will review the programme and is open to more funding if there is demand. It is anticipated that if the program is successful then it will hopefully roll out nationally. This is one of our major focuses because, while Eye Institute does not offer a dedicated paediatric service we recognise that problems caused by untreated refractive errors in childhood will lead to lifelong problems with vision.
We look forward to working with you in helping improve the lives of many young children.