When Pham Thu Hue was in the fifth grade, her father began noticing that she often squinted. When he asked her about it, she said that her eyes were “blurry” and could not see clearly.
Unfortunately, Hue is not alone. One in every five children in rural Vietnam has an undiagnosed refractive error, an increasingly common condition in which the shape of the eye changes so that images are no longer focused properly on the retina. Without corrective eyeglasses, these children struggle to get by with blurred or distorted vision. And not seeing clearly affects almost every aspect of their lives, especially their confidence and their ability to learn in school.
Hue lives with her father and younger sister in Xuan Hong commune of the Red River Delta. Here, most adults are agricultural workers and many must travel to cities to find jobs after the harvest season. Hue’s father, a mason by trade, is not employed full-time but picks up work when he can. Her mother lives most of the time in Hanoi, where she works as a scrap collector. Every day, she cycles many miles through the city’s streets, collecting discarded paper, plastic bottles, and metal to sell to recycling companies. She is able to come home to her family only infrequently.
The income that Hue’s parents earn is rarely steady and usually barely enough to cover minimum living expenses and the tuition for the school that Hue and her sister attend. This made it difficult for them to access vision care for Hue. Going to an eye hospital was out of the question, because the nearest one is still far away, and her father worried that the travel and treatment costs would be a financial burden.
The best that Hue’s family could manage was going to the private optic shop near their home. But the shop does not have an ophthalmologist, so after examining Hue, the staff said only that she was mildly nearsighted but did not need to wear eyeglasses. She was also prescribed some eye drops and tablets.
Hue’s vision problems persisted. “In class,” Hue explains, “I would often read and write incorrect letters. I had to squint to read the teacher’s writing on the board. I had to ask my friends what the words said or borrow their notebooks.”
Fortunately, starting in late 2017, HKI-Vietnam’s ChildSight program began providing services at Dang Xuan Khu Secondary School where Hue is a student. The school is now one of 21 that benefit from the program in Xuan Truong District.
During Hue’s ChildSight examination, health staff from the District Health Center discovered that she could not read most of the letters on the Snellen Chart. And she could count the number of fingers that the doctor held up only from a distance of about 3 yards.
Although annual health check-ups are conducted in schools, eye examinations were limited to identifying problems like redness, pain or signs of infection. Now, however, thanks to HKI-Vietnam, all schoolchildren in the District are screened for vision problems—including serious eye disorders that require referrals—and a refraction exam provides accurate prescriptions for subsidized eyeglasses that correct nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism.
During the checkup three weeks after Hue received her glasses from ChildSight, she smiled radiantly. With her new glasses, Hue sees everything clearly. She can read books and her teacher’s writing on the board. And she is able to help her younger sister do homework.
This past semester, Hue became one of the top students in her class. “I feel more confident with my eyeglasses,” she says with excitement. “My eyes are not blurry anymore. I will get even better results at school this semester. This is a present for my mom when she comes back home. I am sure she will be so happy!”