Sight, vision, call it what you like, but it remains a fact that the eyes are the individual’s window to the world, which makes clarity essential. Therefore, when a study suggests that one out of 10 preschool children may have impaired vision, the alarm bells must sound. Internationally, meanwhile, the figure of 20 per cent is even more alarming. Therefore, to not consider the problem urgent is tantamount to negligence on the part of the relevant authority. The position of the Health Ministry is that the veracity of these claims need to be proven before public policy can be formulated and implemented. Fair enough. Nonetheless, the urgency cannot be ignored.

The Segamat Paediatric Eye Disease Study shows that 10 per cent of children suffer from some kind of sight impairment and remain untreated because parents are seldom aware that their children have problems. An immediate rectification in this respect would be to educate all parents of the symptoms at the point of birth. For example, if the child is too often squinting, then obviously something is amiss. Given that there are several problems, almost all correctable, parents must be advised to be more vigilant and not dismiss any oddities as inconsequential. And, at a more organised level, there are calls for eye screening of children prior to enrolment into Standard One at both state and private schools.

Indeed, a child should arrive in school all geared up for learning. But, maybe, schools are where the screening should be done. Are not Malaysian parents known for their negligence, some of them at least? If parents were always reliable, one would not be facing the problem of children without birth certificates. It is then advisable that eye screening of all 7-year-olds be done as soon as they start school. After all, dental care provided by the Health Ministry is already extended in schools. It should not be difficult to provide for a one-off additional service. Once identified, it should be made mandatory for parents to bring children for treatment. If parents choose to be negligent, then the Child Act comes into force. While some may think this is an invasion of family sanctity, to prejudice a child’s future in this way is just not tolerable. Vision impairment results in learning difficulties. And, when corrective measures are at hand, compromising a child’s learning abilities is simply unforgivable.

Teachers, too, should alert the authorities when their charges are inexplicably slow or are unnaturally disruptive. The straightforward assumption is that some remedial services are needed irrespective of the type of problem so that, firstly, the affected children are not further damaged by a feeling of inadequacy and, secondly, the rest of the class is not held back. So, eye screen all Malaysian children to ensure 20/20 vision, although some do say that Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh’s unusually beautiful paintings are the result of some vision disorder. However, risking all our vision-impaired children for a one in a million possibility would definitely be cynical and totally outrageous.

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