Eyecare: No end in sight to SA’s low uptake of services

No end in sight to SA's lack of eyecare
A survey has showed that at least 74% of South Africans haven't had an eye test in the last three to five years. (Photo: Freepik)

Nine-year-old Busiswe used to struggle to read, write and spell. All she needed was an eye test and a pair of glasses but eyecare is not easily accessible in the rural part of Mpumalanga where she lives.

Busisiwe’s story is not unique. A BMC Health Services Research study found that the prevalence of never having had an eye exam was 81 percent among people who live in rural areas compared to 66.9 percent among urban residents. 

Dr. Inez Allin, Clinics Coordinator at Tshemba Foundation said people living in rural areas face many healthcare challenges, from capacity issues to having to travel long distances to access healthcare. The result is that proactive healthcare is often not an option.

The Tshemba Foundation is an organisation that helps children like Busisiwe. They have a medical volunteer programme that attracts healthcare professionals from around the world. 

Allin said if Busisiwe lived in an urban area her eyesight would have been tested during routine eye exams at school. She would have got glasses much earlier in her school career and her reading and writing skills would be better developed.

The Foundation also trains educators to be able to identify issues children might possibly be experiencing. Busiswe was identified as one of many pupils who struggle with their eyesight. She was taken to the Tintswalo Hospital for an eye test and finally received her spectacles. 

Early intervention is crucial

Othelia Nyathi, an optometrist from Tintswalo Hospital in Mpumalanga, said that parents should take their children to see an eye doctor as soon as they realise something is wrong. If a child rubs their eyes, tilts their head when they want to read something, or avoids doing schoolwork, it indicates that an eye test is required. 

“I recommend taking your child to an eye doctor when they are about three years old. And again, before they go to school at six or seven,” said Nyathi. 

Nyathi said that people don’t take care of their eyes.

“People don’t know that they have to take good care of their eyes. And most of the patients, when we see them, their vision is already gone,” he said.

Making a difference


The Tshemba Foundation Co-founder and director, Godfrey Phillips, said they no longer want to only support the medical side of healthcare.

“Our goal has grown to have a more holistic, long-term impact on the community. This lays a foundation for happier, healthier, and better-educated children. Tshemba and our volunteers are going into local communities and visiting schools to deliver proactive health screenings,” said Phillips.

Allin said that often, things that are taken for granted in urban areas can change a life in a rural setting.

“Having dental work done or being able to see an ophthalmologist, gynaecologist, or a host of generalists, are some examples. We’ve seen older family members have their sight restored through routine cataract surgery. We also see children who are healthier after simple dental work and no longer have to endure pain. And, young women receiving their first gynecological exams,” she added. – Health-e News



Free to Share

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Stay in the loop

We love that you love visiting our site. Our content is free, but to continue reading, please register.

Newsletter Subscription

Enable Notifications OK No thanks