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Blind "missing Out on Schooling"

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from BBC News, UK, October 13, 2004.

Nine out of ten blind children in developing countries are missing out on schooling, according to a charity.

Sight Savers International is calling on governments to give more money t combat "easily prevented" sight-loss diseases like trachoma and cataracts. Otherwise, it said, the United Nations' goal of universal worldwide primary schooling by 2015 will not be met.

Rising school enrollment in developing countries was having "precious little effect" on blind children, it added.

"Treatable"

Blindness usually occurs before the age of five, when the majority of learning is visual, the charity added.

The 90% figure, compiled with the help of the International Council for the Education of People with Visual Impairment (ICEPVI), was averaged out from countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

In Malawi, for example, overall rates on schooling had doubled between 1990 and 1995, but still only 20% of children who were visually impaired went to school.

Sight Savers said 28% of blindness among the young globally was preventable and 15% was treatable.

Executive director, Richard Porter, said: "There are many reasons why hundreds of thousands of children across the world are missing out on a childhood. Blindness should not be one of them.

"Simple and cost-effective measures can be used to both treat and prevent blindness in children and ensure children who are blind go to school."

The cost of achieving universal primary education is calculated at $8bn (4.7bn pounds), which is claimed to be equal to the amount spent on weapons in a week.

In Pakistan, Sight Savers found 75% of blind or severely visually impaired adults were illiterate, compared with 46.3% of the general population.

In Uganda, blind children were considered "incapable of performing all activities that other children are able to perform, representing a 'problem' to be dealt with separately from other children's issues".

Mr. Porter said: "While the talk is of inclusion, the evidence is of exclusion. Governments must support inclusive education if children who are blind are to be offered any kind of future."