Purpose: To assess the prevalence of refractive error and vision impairment in school age children in the terai area of the Mechi zone in Eastern Nepal.
Methods: Random selection of village-based clusters was used to identify a sample of children 5 to 15 years of age. Children in the 25 selected clusters were enumerated through a door-to-door household survey and invited to village sites for examination. Visual acuity measurements, cycloplegic retinoscopy, cycloplegic autorefraction, ocular motility evaluation, and anterior segment, media, and fundus examinations were done from May 1998 through July 1998. Independent replicate examinations for quality assurance monitoring took place in all children with reduced vision and in a sample of those with normal vision in seven villages.
Results: A total of 5,526 children from 3,724 households were enumerated, and 5,067 children (91.7%) were examined. The prevalence of uncorrected, presenting, and best visual acuity 0.5 (20/40) or worse in at least one eye was 2.9%, 2.8%, and 1.4%, respectively; 0.4% had best visual acuity 0.5 or worse in both eyes. Refractive error was the cause in 56% of the 200 eyes with reduced uncorrected vision, amblyopia in 9%, other causes in 19%, with unexplained causes in the remaining 16%. Myopia -0.5 diopter or less in either eye or hyperopia 2 diopters or greater was observed in less than 3% of children. Hyperopia risk was associated with female gender and myopia risk with older age.
Conclusions: The prevalence of reduced vision is very low in school-age children in Nepal, most of it because of correctable refractive error. Further studies are needed to determine whether the prevalence of myopia will be higher for more recent birth cohorts.