Children in War Zones: Healing Sight & Minds
Children in war zones often suffer from blindness and low vision due to trauma. Guest blogger Tara Heath talks about a health programme that aims to bring down the number of blind children and the importance of peace education.
Children have always been the invisible victims of war and face a number of challenges. From Syria to Somalia and Afghanistan to the Congo, children continue to bear disproportionate consequences of armed conflict. Apart from being at a high risk of losing their lives, they often become orphaned, suffer from malnutrition and illnesses, and do not have access to basic education.
One of the most serious consequences for children in war zones is low vision or blindness. Trauma from landmine explosions and war-related injuries are the main cause of ocular injury, which robs these children of their eyesight.
For instance, a study to assess the prevalence of common eye diseases conducted in Kandal Province, Cambodia had found that blindness and low vision was much more prevalent in the region in comparison to other developing countries. The study also found that childhood blindness due to phthisis, corneal scarring, or other pathology was caused mostly by trauma from landmine explosions and war-related injuries.
Hearteningly, regions with significantly higher cases of childhood blindness have been receiving increased focus, thanks to VISION 2020: The Right to Sight, a joint programme of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB).
Launched in 1999, VISION 2020 aims to reduce the global prevalence of blindness from 7.5/10,000 children (in 1997) to 4/10,000 children by 2020, which will bring down the number of children with irreversibly blindness from 1.4 million to about 800,000.
Efforts are being made to fill the shortage of pediatric eye-care professionals and insufficient opportunities for training in pediatric ophthalmology in regions with higher cases of child blindness. This is done by providing specialist training and services for managing surgically remediable visual loss resulting from corneal scarring, among other factors.
Gathering of population-based data on the prevalence and causes of blindness in children has created a growing body of evidence and information, which is helping ophthalmologists provide better pediatric healthcare. Child eye-care centers are being set up with a well-trained team, proper equipment and infrastructure, and consumables for children, such as small spectacle frames, high-power intraocular lenses, etc.
But more importantly, children in war zones need peace education to change their attitude, increase tolerance, and reduce prejudice, which are generally found to be rooted in ethnicity, religion, or gender. According to the very first statement of the UNESCO constitution, ‘Since war begins in the mind of man, it is in the mind of man that the foundation of peace must be constructed’.
Education for Peace (EFP) is a unique programme that creates a civilization of peace by assisting children, youth and adults to create conflict-free and violence-free atmosphere in their homes, schools, work place and within the community.
For instance, since 2003, the Education for Peace (EfP) program has been conducted across 103 primary schools in Bosnia & Herzegovina (BiH), which had emerged from a deadly civil war from 1991 to 1995 and exhibited a violent culture.
Since the war had led to mistrust, anger, and hopelessness among the people, the EfP aimed at providing participants with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to prevent violence, resolve disputes peacefully, and enhance peaceful cohesion. The EfP program was found to have brought about a positive change in the participants’ family and student-teacher relationships across all the schools.
Peace education promotes a non-violent lifestyle and attempts to end violence and hostility without transforming into deadly activity. It can be implemented at schools or universities or at the community level to make participants resistant to war and violence for building lasting peace in the eyes of children.
Submitted by Tara Heath, a 37 year-old health professional and freelance writer. Her writing focuses mainly on health, such as skincare and how to live a healthy lifestyle overall. She lives in Burbank, California with her husband and two beautiful daughters ages eight and twelve.
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