Improving Eyesight in Developing CountriesPoor vision and blindness are problems that many people in developed countries take for granted. Most people know that they will be able to get contacts, glasses, laser eye surgery, or any number of other solutions to their vision problems. However, there are 246 million people around the world who are living with a visual impairment, and 39 million people are totally blind. This data may seem trivial compared to the more than 650 million people living in extreme poverty, but these issues are closely linked. Many living in extreme poverty or with a low income suffer from some form of visual impairment. Poor eyesight makes it very difficult for people to escape the cycle of poverty, so improving eyesight in developing countries would help address many other poverty-related issues, including education and equal rights for women.

At first, it seems like vision is unrelated to the issue of poverty. Though vision is rarely discussed compared to other issues such as malnutrition, violence and healthcare, eyesight is an overlooked problem in many areas of poverty. Nine out of ten blind people live in developing countries, and most of them are in poverty.

When ignored and untreated, poor eyesight can cause or worsen conditions of poverty, and the conditions of poverty can also cause poor eyesight or blindness. Without access to proper healthcare and treatment, many people living in poverty contract eye diseases that could have been easily treated, but instead they are blinded. This makes their already difficult situation even more desperate, because they are unable to better educate themselves or get a job to support themselves. Poor eyesight and blindness compound the issues of poverty, so addressing and improving eyesight in developing countries is an important part of addressing the cycle of poverty.

Most of the 246 million people with a visual impairment just need corrective lenses to fix their vision. There are a variety of programs that can recycle old eyeglasses to give to those who need it. These programs keep thousands of glasses out of landfills and give them to someone who can use them.

Blindness may seem like a much more difficult problem to address, but about 80 percent of the world’s blindness is treatable or preventable. Over half of the world’s blindness is caused by cataracts, and a simple 15-minute operation would cure these people. These solutions seem relatively straightforward, yet poor eyesight is often an unknown factor when many people address poverty.

The solution is simple: provide proper eye care and corrective lenses to address these problems. However, implementing this is more difficult. In many areas where people have poor eyesight, there are dozens of other difficulties as well. For example, Africa has only ten percent of the world’s population, yet it has 19 percent of the world’s blindness. The rate of poor eyesight in Africa is the result of a variety of causes, but the main factor is poor healthcare.

Many diseases such as HIV/AIDS and others that cause or worsen poor eyesight go untreated due to the sparse and insufficient healthcare systems. The number of eye care personnel is in many areas even lower than the number of healthcare providers. For example, in South Africa, there is only about one optometrist for 17,600 people. With disproportionate numbers like this, it’s no mystery why eye care is practically nonexistent in many areas.

Tackling the vision problems in developing countries is an enormous task. Most organizations begin by treating trachoma, refractive errors, cataracts, and childhood ocular conditions. By treating these four causes of blindness and poor vision, millions of lives can be turned around. People are given the power of sight, and with it, they are better able to get an education or a job.

However, preventing the larger causes of poverty is the key to preventing blindness. Improving eyesight in developing countries helps end poverty, but it is a two-way relationship. Since so many preventable and treatable eyesight problems are caused by poverty, ending poverty will also prevent many of the eyesight problems that deepen the existing conditions of poverty. Promoting health and education leads to better eyesight, and better eyesight in turn leads to better overall health, better economic standing, and more independence. Instead of a downward cycle in poverty, improving eyesight can lead to an upward spiral where conditions get better and better for those whose vision is treated.

Rachael Lind

Photo: Flickr