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NIHR funds first UK-wide population study of all forms of childhood visual impairment

NIHR funds first UK-wide population study of all forms of childhood visual impairment

A new epidemiological study carried out with NIHR support shows that on average, three children in the UK are newly affected by a visual disability every day.

The recently published paper – the first of its kind in the UK – provides detailed information on the prevalence of different visual impairments, relationships with other conditions, associated mortality rates and links to socioeconomic background, ethnicity, premature birth and birth weight.

The lead author for the paper was Jugnoo Rahi, Professor of Ophthalmic Epidemiology at UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health and UCL Institute of Ophthalmology.  Professor Rahi, who is an NIHR Senior Investigator, also receives support from the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and UCL Institute of Ophthalmology.

The most common causes of childhood visual impairment are cerebral visual impairment, retinal disorders and optic nerve disorders, but many children have more than one eye condition, the study found.

Half of all children affected from birth and almost three-quarters of all affected children have significant additional impairments or disorders. It is clear that there is a constellation of complex needs, underlined by the high proportion of children under 1 year who die within the year after diagnosis (mortality rate of 17.4 per 1000 infants, compared with an overall national infant mortality rate of 3.8 per 1000 infants).

The study, called the British Childhood Visual Impairment and Blindness Study 2, or ‘BCVIS2’, was published in the The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health. The research team, based at UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health (UCL GOS ICH), produced the paper in collaboration with the British Childhood Visual Impairment and Blindness Study Interest Group.

Professor Rahi said: “The BCVIS2 study shows why childhood visual disability must be part of work tackling child health inequalities, a need which is now even greater with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the most ‘at risk’ families and on NHS children’s eye services.”

The findings in the study are vital for assessing the visual health of the population and planning effective health services.