Background: Uncorrected refractive error is the leading cause of visual impairment in children. In 2002 a screening project was launched in Israel to provide data on the effectiveness of the illiterate E-chart in identifying Jewish and Arab schoolchildren in need of a comprehensive eye examination.
Objectives: To present the aims, design and initial results of the visual screening project and the prevalence of vision abnormality in the study population.
Methods: A cross-sectional population-based study was conducted during 2002–2003 among first- and eighth-graders in 70 schools in northern Israel. The nurse's test included use of the illiterate E-chart to measure visual acuity. The medical examination included vision history, clinical eye examination, VA and retinoscopy. The ophthalmologist's evaluation as to whether a child needed a referral for diagnostic procedures, treatment and/or follow-up was recorded and compared with explicit referral criteria formulated after data collection.
Results: Of 1975 schoolchildren, 31% had abnormal VA, defined as VA worse than 6/6 in at least one eye, and a quarter had VA equal or worse than 6/12 in both eyes. The prevalence of vision abnormality among the children was 22.4% when based on the evaluation of the field ophthalmologist and 26.1% when based on two sets of explicit severity scores and referral criteria.
Conclusions: Vision abnormality is a significant health problem among northern Israeli schoolchildren. This project is unique in scope and importance, providing evidence to assist policy making with regard to vision screening for schoolchildren (including data on test reliability and validity) and optimal VA cutoff level, and confirming the need for clinical guidelines regarding referral criteria.