REFERRING to the report “Wan Azizah to civil servants: Serve govt of the day or else...” (The Star, June 22), we applaud the government’s decision to look into the wellbeing of children under the “Children’s Well-being Roadmap”.
Taking a leaf from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, this strategy addresses the fundamental needs of children, ranging from food and clothing to shelter, before moving on to other levels including social belonging, and eventually to self-actualisation which would be achieved by providing them with a good education and opportunities to spread their wings and make their nation proud.
I grew up in Kampung Sena, Kedah in the ‘60s and I remember vividly my friends struggling to go through school while their parents worked hard to put food on the table.
Some of them struggled to look at the blackboard (in those days it was chalk and duster) especially when the days were gloomy.
Many did not perform well academically as they were not able to see what was written on the blackboard. Naturally, they lost interest in their studies and their grades suffered, leaving their parents and teachers disappointed. They were also perceived as lazy and naughty.
It wasn’t until many years later, after I ventured into the eye care service, that I realised my friends did not know why they were not able to see the blackboard.
I believe many of my friends would have been very successful academically had it not been for their poor eyesight! Had they realised the real problem, they might have had a chance to seek treatment.
Normal visual development is rapid during the first six months of life and continues through the first decade. Hence, a thorough eye check-up will reveal any potential visual impairment and could be treated earlier.
I am only referring to my male friends here. There were many of my female friends whom I feel were as capable but due to the cultural norms of those times, where girls were designated the role of mothers and housewives, they weren’t given much opportunity to further their education.
There was only so much a family could afford for education back then and girls were expected to get married and have husbands to take care of them, hence why study so hard?
And to get husbands, they just needed to look pretty, and wearing glasses wasn’t considered beautiful back then and probably even now.
Constrained by the societal expectations of those days, many of my female friends put up with a less than ideal vision until many years later when they became more aware about eye care.
Today, we live in a modern society where we talk about gender equality and are aspiring towards achieving the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals.
It is high time that we paid attention to children’s vision.
The Segamat Paediatric Eye Disease Study conducted in 2016, which was led by the Health Ministry and South-East Asia Community Observatory under Monash University Malaysia, found that one in 10 children in Malaysia has an undiagnosed vision problem that can lead to chronic headaches and learning difficulties.
The study also found that if left untreated, it could lead to permanent visual impairment and even blindness.
One of the prevalent impairments that children suffer is amblyopia, which is commonly known as lazy eye. It happens when the vision of one eye is reduced. The brain and eyes work together to produce vision, where the eye focuses light on the back part of the eye known as the retina.
Cells of the retina then trigger nerve signals that travel along the optic nerves to the brain. But due to several reasons, such as uncorrected refractive errors, the vision of one eye is reduced because it fails to work properly with the brain. The eye itself looks normal but the brain favours the other eye.
Symptoms include difficulty seeing the blackboard, which leads to teachers’ complaining about the child being inattentive in class. Children with lazy eye would also avoid doing tasks that require them to look at near distance objects such as school work.
When detected early, amblyopia and many other childhood vision abnormalities are treatable. But the efficiency of treatment declines with age, with the most pronounced effects being before the age of seven years.
Treatments include correcting any detectable refractive errors or any eye conditions and subsequently applying a patch to the better eye. Patching stimulates vision in the weaker eye and helps the parts of the brain involved to develop more completely.
It is really not that difficult to give our younger generation a good head start in life, beginning with caring for their vision. We are committed to this cause, from providing eye screening to the necessary assistance to schools and orphanages. Hence, we would be happy to provide support for the Children’s Well-being Roadmap.
DATUK TAN BOON HOCK
Optimax Eye Specialist Centre