The Rural Education Action Program (REAP) is a Stanford University research organization dedicated to discovering the causes of poverty in rural China, and creating simple, yet effective solutions in education, health and nutrition policy. REAP has conducted research that closely correlates clear vision with good grades in school, proving that increased access to glasses and vision care programs could have significant impacts on the education of children living in rural areas. Through the successful implementation of these projects, REAP plans to offer a model for a national vision care policy for children throughout China.
REAP has developed a model for the screening of Amblyopia, also known as lazy-eye. Amblyopia occurs when there is a disconnect between the eye and the brain, causing decreased vision. This disease usually impact young children from age 0-3. Amblyopia left untreated can lead to other permanent vision and developmental issues. Very few rural children in China are properly diagnosed due to parent’s lack of knowledge of the disease.
REAP aims to focus on identifying cases of Amblyopia, as well as increasing the amount of correction services available. Treatment includes special eyeglasses, patches, and atropine eyedrops that force the use of the weaker eye to strengthen it. The intention of these treatment mechanisms is to correct the optical deficiency in the weaker eye. There are millions of children in China with uncorrected vision problems, which can then lead to a severe impact on their education.
REAP is working with local governments in rural China to incorporate proper vision care into the national healthcare agenda.
In rural China, there are widespread misunderstandings about Myopia, or nearsightedness. Many parents believe that nearsightedness is just a temporary eye condition and by doing daily eye exercises, the child’s vision will improve. Some believe that allowing children to wear prescriptive glasses will further “hurt children’s eyes.”
REAP researchers were able to conduct different studies to prove that routine eye exercise does not help improve or slow down the progression of myopia. The only effective treatment is to wear properly prescribed glasses.
REAP tested the method of utilizing hospital staff to train primary school teachers to screen visual acuity. Teachers then screen their students and refer those who do not pass to the county hospital for subsidized care. The uptake of wearing glasses to help improve visual acuity for the student is further increased if the classroom teachers encourage it.
REAP is continuing to develop an innovative early detection, referral and treatment service that can become a scalable model for the provision of pediatric vision care in rural China.