Twelve-year-old Paul is excelling in school for the first time in years. Until recently, the Kenyan sixth grader found schoolwork tiring and difficult because of his poor vision. But now he’s taking charge of his own eye health – and it’s paying off. He’s discovered a new passion and has new dreams for the future.
Paul’s mother first noticed when he was a toddler that his eyes didn’t point in the same direction. She took him to a hospital where a clinician told her that Paul might lose his eyesight completely if he had surgery to fix the problem. She decided not to take the risk, and by grade four, Paul was having trouble reading. Eventually he could not read the blackboard at all and had to copy notes off other students. His eyes became tired after the long school day, and his classmates teased him about his appearance.
Things changed for Paul in October 2021, when his school was a participant in our School Eye Health Program, funded by the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID’s) Child Blindness Program. The program has screened more than 86,000 school children in Kenya’s Uasin Gishu County by training teachers to identify students with visual impairments using a smartphone app called Peek Acuity. After the initial screening, students with possible eye conditions are referred to a nearby vision centre or hospital for further assessment.
After the screeners looked at Paul’s eyes, they advised him to go to our partner hospital in nearby Eldoret. When he told his mother, she initially hesitated due to her previous fears that he could lose his vision entirely. But Paul would not give up. “The boy insisted that I take him to hospital because technology has improved and things have changed,” his mother explained.
After consulting with the teacher who screened him, Paul’s mother took him to the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital. As a partner in the School Eye Health Program, the hospital’s ophthalmic staff had recently received updated training in pediatric eye health as well as some new medical equipment. At the hospital, Paul was formally diagnosed with a squint, also called strabismus, a condition that causes misalignment of the eyes. He had surgery for the condition, the cost of which was covered through our program.
Today, Paul can see clearly and reads the blackboard with ease. Before surgery, he was always the second last in his class, but now he is among the top 10 of 40 students, and he says that kids no longer make fun of him. With his newly discovered love of math, Paul hopes to become an engineer someday.
With files from Caroline Ikumu