National Vision Screening Program for kindergarten pupils signed into law

President Rodrigo Duterte has signed into law Republic Act 11358 establishing a National Vision Screening Program (NVSP) that aims to screen the eye vision of kindergarten pupils and identify early childhood visual problems.

Signed on July 31 and with Senator Pia Cayetano as lead author, the law mandates the Department of Education (DepEd) to lead in the implementation of the NVSP, in coordination with the Department of Health (DOH) and the Philippine Eye Research Institute (PERI) which is under the National Institutes of Health of UP Manila.

The law provides for the conduct of a simple vision screening test on kindergarten pupils through trained teachers and health personnel using a Vision Screening Kit that includes charts with symbols or numbers, occluders, and transparent response key. 

During the past four years, PERI has conducted pilot studies and trainings across the country on vision screening for kindergarten pupils..  Under the NVSP, PERI shall be mainly responsible for the training of Vision Screening Trainers for purposes of quality assurance.  It shall likewise recommend the appropriate screening material to be used.

The law further stipulates the provision of immediate attention to visually impaired kindergarten pupils and the creation of a referral system so that they may be checked and treated by eye care practitioners. It is expected that after the vision screening of the kindergarten pupils, a vision screening results database will be developed containing the results of the screening per child  and visual conditions diagnoses by the eye practitioners. 

Under the Act, the DOH and PERI shall conduct researches and provide evidence-based recommendations to the DepEd on matters pertaining to the NVSP. PERI will conduct studies on childhood-related eye vision ailments.

A policy brief prepared by PERI states that nationwide, four pupils in a class of 40 have vision problems with three of them possibly having errors of refraction and one having amblyopia or lazy eye.  This eye disorder has a prevalence of 2-5% in children, making it one of the causes of visual impairment and preventable blindness.

With the full implementation of the K to 12 program, the early preschool entry in the public school system at age 5 or 6 would allow for vision screening to detect amblyopia when treatment is still possible. Without timely and appropriate intervention, amblyopia will lead to educational, occupational, and safety restrictions later in life.

 “For preschoolers, an eye problem often goes unnoticed since one eye is absolutely normal for a child with amblyopia.  Without intervention, children in the early ages would suffer from visual impairment that will affect the quality of their learning and productivity,” explained PERI Director Dr. Leo Cubillan in a previous article published in the UP Manila Health Ripples magazine.

Out of 863 pupils screened from 19 pilot schools included in the pilot studies his team conducted during the past four years, 150 or 17% failed the screening. From this number, 75% were diagnosed with errors of refraction while 25% were found to have amblyopia.  As an immediate intervention, pupils who failed the screening test will be asked to sit in the front row of the class and will be referred to eye practitioners for comprehensive examination and further management.

“Our active partnership with DOH, DepEd, PAO, and other stakeholders will hopefully step up efforts to provide a clearer vision for the country’s young generation and contribute to a healthier and more productive citizenry,” stated Dr. Cubillan.

The law envisions to benefit 2 million kindergarten pupils yearly and will greatly reduce preventable and treatable blindness in Filipino children.