A global charity will test children's eyes in 16 low-income parts of New Zealand after an initial test found that 63 per cent of children at a West Auckland primary school needed full eye examinations.
The shock finding at Birdwood School in Ranui is much higher than the OneSight charity has found in Australia, where children needing full eye exams average 35 to 40 per cent and the highest rate ever seen was 45 per cent.
But a community programme at Reporoa and Broadlands, south of Rotorua, has also found a surprisingly high 30 per cent of year 4 children needing corrective lenses - mostly for Irlen Syndrome, a little-known condition caused by sensitivity to light.
Kate Wynyard, now aged 11 and the head girl of Broadlands Primary School, said she could not read properly until the condition was diagnosed and she was given pink-tinted glasses two years ago.
"The words were a bit blurry in the books that I was trying to read. There were white lines through all the words," she said.
"I couldn't stay on the line when I was reading and I had to read with my finger when I was 9 and no one else had to and I felt really uncomfortable."
She would "just sit there with a book and hold it in my hand, I would never really read it."
"It was quite confusing," she said. "I would get distracted really easily. I couldn't concentrate."
Her mother, Vicky Wynyard, said she knew something was wrong but had no idea what until she took Kate to get an Irlens test.
"Within two minutes Kate said the flashing lights are not there any more. I thought, my goodness, what's she talking about, she said there were no orange flashing lights coming on to the words. I was so embarrassed thinking this kid's not all there."
Once she was fitted with her tinted glasses, Mrs Wynyard took her shopping and was amazed when she found Kate in the book aisle instead of her usual toy section.
"She was just standing there opening the pages, lifting her glasses up and putting them down again. She said, 'Mum, there's no white rivers through the writing!'"
Reporoa pharmacist and dairy farmer Karen Barker, who set up a charitable trust to do Irlens tests in local schools after her own children were diagnosed with the condition, said 42 per cent of the 30 per cent who needed glasses needed Irlens tints only, 36 per cent had both Irlens and optometric problems, 12 per cent had only optometric problems and 9 per cent had other issues.
She said Irlens problems may have become widespread only recently due to fluorescent lighting, computer screens and whiteboards.
Her Empowered Learning Trust has raised $260,000 from philanthropic sources to pay for the testing and to give children glasses costing an average of $467 each.
OneSight, a global charity sponsored by the world's biggest eyewear company Luxottica, will pay for tests and glasses for children at decile 1 to 3 primary schools in 16 low-income areas that are part of the Government's "social sector trials", including Ranui, Rotorua and the country's poorest town, Kawerau.
Xena Warrior Princess star Lucy Lawless revealed in a Herald column on Friday that her children suffered from Irlen Syndrome, which is believed to be hereditary.
63% of children at Birdwood School in Ranui need full eye exams.
30% of year 4 children in Reporoa-Broadlands need corrective lenses.
78% of those needing lenses need tinted lenses to correct Irlen Syndrome.