The World Health Organization estimates that 13 million children aged 5-15 years worldwide are visually impaired from uncorrected refractive error. School vision screening programs can identify and treat or refer children with refractive error. We concentrate on the findings of various screening studies and attempt to identify key factors in the success and sustainability of such programs in the developing world. We reviewed original and review articles describing children's vision and refractive error screening programs published in English and listed in PubMed, Medline OVID, Google Scholar, and Oxford University Electronic Resources databases. Data were abstracted on study objective, design, setting, participants, and outcomes, including accuracy of screening, quality of refractive services, barriers to uptake, impact on quality of life, and cost-effectiveness of programs. Inadequately corrected refractive error is an important global cause of visual impairment in childhood. School-based vision screening carried out by teachers and other ancillary personnel may be an effective means of detecting affected children and improving their visual function with spectacles. The need for services and potential impact of school-based programs varies widely between areas, depending on prevalence of refractive error and competing conditions and rates of school attendance. Barriers to acceptance of services include the cost and quality of available refractive care and mistaken beliefs that glasses will harm children's eyes. Further research is needed in areas such as the cost-effectiveness of different screening approaches and impact of education to promote acceptance of spectacle-wear. School vision programs should be integrated into comprehensive efforts to promote healthy children and their families.
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