Best practice guidelines recommend vision testing in children 3 to 5 years of age for the prevention of amblyopia; however, universal vision screening is controversial. In Canada, amblyopia screening can be the responsibility of physicians, optometrists, and/or Public Health. We review the evidence underlying preschool vision screening for amblyopia using an Evidence-based Public Health (EBPH) approach, and consider implications for the Public Health provision of universal screening programs for amblyopia in Canadian jurisdictions in light of present practices.
We searched the literature to address each major screening criterion (disease, test, treatment, program requirements) necessary to support preschool vision screening for amblyopia. We also reappraised papers cited in two systematic reviews related to the impact of vision screening. The Chief Medical Officer of Health of each province/territory was sent a short survey asking whether there currently was a Public Health preschool vision screening program in place and if so, for specifics about the program.
An EBPH approach to the literature with respect to the criteria for screening and available intervention studies support amblyopia screening by Public Health. There is a public health divide in amblyopia screening practice in Canada; while some provinces maintain organized programs, others have chosen to delegate the task to other professionals, without a concurrent surveillance function to monitor disparities in uptake.
Amblyopia deserves attention from Public Health. Efforts should be made to maintain existing programs, and provinces without organized screening programs should reconsider their role in the prevention of inequities with regard to preventable blindness in Canadian children.