20 percent of Philly kids fail in-school eye exams. Wills Eye program can help.

Did you know that many Philadelphia children can’t see well enough in school? In fact, recent statistics show up to 20 percent of our children are failing their in-school eye exam and then, for a number of reasons, never make it into an eye doctor’s office for the problem to be identified and fixed.

Sometimes the problem can be easily solved with prescription eyeglasses. Other times, it’s more involved but can still be detected and corrected – like a child with an undiagnosed cataract (yes, children get them too), pediatric glaucoma, or a lazy eye, otherwise known as Amblyopia. Many of these issues can be helped – even without surgery. Or, the child may have a more serious and rare condition which we can also work to address.

An uncorrected vision problem – especially in child who is still developing — can have a lifelong and damaging impact on the child’s academic success and quality of life. I see it every day as the chief of pediatric ophthalmology and ocular genetics at Wills Eye Hospital. Kids from all over the world come to see us for their vision issues, yet here in Philadelphia, we can never bang the drum loud enough to let people know that we want more of our own kids to see better too.

Every day, my colleagues and I see a constant stream of adorable kids who need more of our collective, citywide help. Children from homes below the federal poverty level are twice as likely to be visually impaired and face unnecessary, lifelong struggles compared to kids from higher earning homes. With federal insurance programs like CHIP in a state of uncertainty, community programs may be the only resource that families have.

We need to work better together. That takes private-public partnerships, funding, and even more awareness of collaborative programs to ensure that all children have access to vision care.

At Wills Eye, one of the ways we’re doing our part is through our annual “Give Kids Sight Day.” Now in its eighth year, the event is a team effort by The Vision Coalition which includes: Wills Eye Hospital, Thomas Jefferson University, School District of Philadelphia, Public Citizens for Children and Youth, Eagles Charitable Foundation, Essilor Vision Foundation and others.

This Saturday, Oct. 21, children 17 and under are invited to get free eye exams and, if needed, free prescription eyeglasses whether they have insurance or not. Children who have failed an eye screening at school or have not had their eyes examined in the last year are strongly urged to attend.

Please spread the word to help us reach as many kids as possible this year. In past years, we’ve seen upwards of 1,200 children on this day, and, to date, we’ve treated and helped more than 8,000 children through this program alone.

Give Kids Sight Day starts at 8:30 a.m., ending at 1 p.m. Registration is at Thomas Jefferson Medical College Alumni Hall, 1020 Locust Street, Philadelphia, Pa. 19107.

For more information, call 215-563-5848 x21 or visit pccy.org/sightday.

Alex Levin, MD, MHSc, is the chief of pediatric ophthalmology and ocular genetics at Wills Eye Hospital.