Background: Uncorrected refractive error (URE) is a major cause of vision impairment among children that impacts negatively on their lives including distresses. We aim to understand the disability-related distress among vision-impaired children due to URE in rural and semi-rural South Africa using qualitative techniques. Methods: Structured focus groups of children (aged 5–12 years old) with normal vision and vision impairment due to URE from four schools in Pinetown, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, were performed (four mixed-gender group discussions and eight single gender group discussions). We recruited the study participants after the children underwent standardised vision screening. Criterion sampling was used when selecting study participants. The interviews were transcribed to identify meaning units and broken down to condensed meaning units, which were then grouped into megathemes. Themes were then generated. Results: Thirteen children with normal vision and 63 children with vision impairment due to URE participated in the twelve focus group discussions with 36 boys (47%) and 40 girls (53%). Twelve themes were generated. The megathemes were Loss of Self Confidence (number of themes (n) = 3), Loss of self-worth (n = 3), Loss of interconnection/ interaction with community (n = 2), Humiliation (n = 2) and Discrimination (n = 2).Conclusions: We found that vision impairment due to URE can cause distress in different domains in children’s life and further grouped them into different themes. The themes will be used for the development of a tool to assess disability-related distress among children with vision impairment due to URE. We also recommend that distresses caused by URE should be taken into consideration when designing eye care programmes for children.
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