Eye Care and COVID-19
Globally, more than 1 billion need eyeglasses but do not have them. VisionSpring is an organization that recognizes that the lack of access to eye care worldwide highlights the link between poverty and vision impairment. To improve the situation, VisionSpring provides eyeglasses for individuals who need them the most. Currently, the organization fights the lack of access to eye care in the world in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Seeing the Connection Between Poverty and Eye Care

Poor eye health and poverty link in a feedback loop. Poverty can worsen eye health due to lack of resources, and worsened eye health can cause or intensify poverty. For example, estimates have determined that vision impairments like cataracts and trachoma are more prevalent in impoverished communities due to missing clean water access and overcrowded environments. Once individuals become significantly vision-impaired or blind, they are not able to access beneficial opportunities as easily.

Subsequently, people with compromised eye health or eye disabilities are negatively affected in multiple aspects of their normal lives. This impacts a wide range, including employment, health, education, material wealth, social prosperity and access to aid. In summary, poor eye health lowers a person’s quality of life, especially if that person is or already was in poverty. Now more than ever, this issue draws attention as the quality of life worsens for those experiencing poverty due to inadequate eye care and COVID-19.

VisionSpring’s Intentions and Influence

VisionSpring’s mission is to provide eyeglasses to those who need them. Eyeglasses are instrumental in furthering social, economic, educational and personal advancement. Proper eyeglasses can correct about half of the world’s vision impairment problems. Supplying vision-challenged individuals with eyeglasses can boost their productivity up to 32%, which in turn can allow them to have greater opportunities for income.

Giving students the eyeglasses they need can increase their learning gains by up to one full additional year of school. VisionSpring aims to make these empowering changes in peoples’ lives. It specifically focuses on providing eyeglasses for people in new or growing markets, typically living on less than $4 a day. The organization does this through a mix of revenue, generated by “high-volume low-margin sales,” and philanthropic contributions.

For every $4-5 donation, VisionSpring can give one pair of glasses to someone struggling to see, which can then translate into an average 20% growth in their income. VisionSpring has screened millions of people for vision correction, including garment workers, students, drivers and more.

Over the years, the organization provided 6.8 million pairs of corrective eyeglasses in 24 countries. It has seen an increase in productivity between 22-32% among those receiving eyeglasses and witnessed $1.4 billion in economic influence. Despite all this momentum, however, VisionSpring’s global service slowed in 2020 due to the pandemic. It is now navigating the process of tackling eye care and COVID-19.

VisionSpring Through a COVID-19 Lens

Eye care and COVID-19 alleviation fit together under VisionSpring’s scope of action. Although it has scaled back efforts to provide eye care services in the midst of COVID-19, VisionSpring has ramped up its efforts to serve in other ways.

“Because our eye screening work intersects with community health workers, hospitals, government health ministries, supply chain providers, and the manufacturing sector, we have built in capabilities that have been helpful in the COVID-19 response,” said VisionSpring in a statement.

Accordingly, it established multiple “COVID-19 response goals.” These include obtaining and sending two million units of PPE, including goggles, face shields, gowns, masks and more, to health workers VisionSpring has an association with. Additionally, VisionSpring intends to provide 250,000 cloth masks to people and health centers in low income communities to curb the spread of COVID-19. It has employed and commissioned people it works closely with in the garment industry to make these masks.

VisionSpring also works to deliver 300,000 food and hygiene care kits to people who need them due to lockdowns. In particular, it has targeted transportation drivers, migrant workers and others with the kits and is working to implement handwashing stations outside health facilities in communities it is present in.

VisionSpring’s Impact During the Pandemic

As of December 2020, VisionSpring delivered over 2.1 million units of PPE, exceeded its cloth mask distribution goal by a factor of two and sent out about 304,000 kits to communities. At the same time, due to limitations, the organization scaled back its eye screening services because it lacked the ability to conduct them while social distancing.

VisionSpring CEO Ella Gudwin says VisionSpring plans to return to its full services with a priority on reading glasses due to current specializations and COVID-19 safety precautions. Through VisionSpring’s efforts, past, present and planned, it shows a commitment to the wellbeing of people and communities it serves. By working to maintain priorities and expand impact, VisionSpring strengthens both vision and economic capabilities for individuals, even in challenging times.

Claire Kirchner
Photo: Flickr