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Number of children with sight loss rises on back of premature birth rate

The number of children registered blind or partially sighted has risen as survival rates for severely premature babies improve, according to new findings.

There has been a 9% rise in children registered blind or partially sighted from 10,947 in 2006 to 11,928 last year, according to an analysis of British data by the charity Blind Children UK. Among under-fives, there was a 12% rise over that period from 1,622 to 1,813 in this category.

“Sight loss can leave children feeling isolated and afraid − I know this from personal experience”

Lord Holmes

The charity said the increase has come as overall survival rates among babies born between 22 and 25 weeks rose significantly from 40% in 1995 to 53% in 2006.

The earlier a child is born, the greater the risk of vision impairment, with one in 20, or 5%, of severely premature babies now likely to be born blind, the charity said.

In spite of the growing numbers, the charity said its own survey of parents with children with sight loss showed they had reported feeling “depressed, isolated or upset” by the struggles they faced.

Parents said they had difficulties accessing playgrounds and events in their local area with their child. There were instances of children being rejected from schools and nurseries as well as swimming lessons because of their vision impairment.

A quarter said they had to wait longer than a year to have their child diagnosed with a vision impairment. Almost half, or 43%, felt that this delay had a negative or “strongly negative” impact on their child’s development as it meant that they did not get the support needed from their local authority or school.

“As much as 80% of a sighted child’s learning takes place using vision”

Richard Leaman

Blind Children UK said it was promoting advice for parents on how to spot early sight loss.

The charity’s campaign has the backing of Paralympic swimmer Lord Chris Holmes and actress Joanna Page, star of the hit television series Gavin and Stacey.

Lord Holmes, whose Paralympic medal tally includes nine golds, said: “Every day four children in the UK are registered blind or partially sighted.

“Sight loss can leave children feeling isolated and afraid − I know this from personal experience,” he said. “Blind Children UK helps gives children the skills, confidence and support to enable them to enjoy their childhood and reach their potential as adults.”

Ms Page, who is also an ambassador for the charity, said: “As a new mother, I have great empathy for parents of children with sight loss.

“Blind Children UK is trying to raise awareness of the problem and ensure that children who do have a vision impairment are diagnosed as early as possible so that they can receive the support they need.”

Richard Leaman, chief executive of Blind Children UK, said: “Every day a child with sight loss goes without support, it dramatically affects their development.

“As much as 80% of a sighted child’s learning takes place using vision.”

To help parents spot the signs of early sight loss, the charity has released a leaflet and has also created a short film, Opening Up The World, to help other families understand more about living with sight loss and the work that the charity does.

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