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

Across the globe, about 150 million people need corrective lenses, but cannot afford them, impeding their ability to work, study and provide for their family. Yet OneDollarGlasses aims to change this.

OneDollarGlasses was started in 2009 by Martin Aufmuth when he saw a pair of glasses sold for US$1 in Germany and questioned why the First World had US$1 glasses but the Third World did not. With that in mind, Aufmuth created the first pair of OneDollarGlasses with bent spring steel wire frames and hardened polycarbonate lenses.

No tools are required to assemble the OneDollarGlasses before putting them on and, most importantly, they cost US$0.80 to make. Today, OneDollarGlasses works with seven developing countries and has greatly improved the lives of many.

Their first project was in Rwanda. Rwanda is densely populated and of the 11.4 million inhabitants, only 11 are ophthalmologists. There, Alfmuth teamed up with a German team of students called Enactus Munich to train local opticians and merchants.

Next, OneDollarGlasses went to Burkina Faso where they faced a low literacy rate and a language barrier. The Enactus students took the lead on training 10 micro-opticians who since then have sold over 1,600 pairs of glasses.

OneDollarGlasses then went to work in Nicaragua in Central America. In Nicaragua, more than 80 percent of the population lives on fewer than US$2 a day. In 2014, OneDollarGlasses sent trainers to San Carlos, and by spring, glasses were being sold.

One pair was given to a woman named María Sandoval on her 99th birthday by her family. With +6 diopters on both eyes, it was the first time she had seen the world in full detail.

In April 2014, Alfmuth presented OneDollarGlasses to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. He received praise at the end of his presentation and several countries described his foundation as “groundbreaking.” OneDollarGlasses has it all: low cost to produce, cheap to buy and a huge demand.

– Hannah Resnick

Sources: Empowering People, Enactus, Essilor, OneDollarGlasses, UNICEF, Venture Beat
Photo: Quora

The lack of productivity caused by poor eyesight costs the developing world $269 billion per year according to the World Health Organizations. Other estimates put the number as high as $700 billion.

Poor eyesight makes living in the developing world considerably burdensome. It is much more difficult to hold down a job, accidents are more frequent and even life expectancies are significantly lower.

To bring about worldwide, long-term economic development, affordable eye care must be brought to the 517 million people in developing countries with both impaired vision and a lack of the means to correct it. For this reason, in the past few years, great strides have been made in promoting affordable eye care in the developing world.

Self-adjustable eyewear is a potential solution to this problem. Low priced and easy to use, they provide a solution to over 80 percent of those with vision problems in the developing world, though they cannot yet provide a solution to astigmatism and similar conditions.

One company providing such a service is Eyejusters. Eyejusters bring high quality eyewear to the developing world for a low cost using something known as “Slide Lens.” Able to tackle both near and long-sightedness, though Eyejusters tends to focus on reading glasses, Slidelens glasses allow the individual to adjust them through the turning of a screw.

Self-adjustable eyeglasses can be provided for an extremely low price. Dutch glasses maker, “The Focus on Vision Foundation,” is able to produce a pair of glasses for just $4 a pair, while the average North American pair of prescription eyeglasses is $350.

British company Ad Specs has been selling its brand of self-adjustable eyewear in the developing world for $19 a pair. All of these companies are using technology to bring low-cost solutions to problems which, in the developing world, have a very high cost.

Self-adjustable glasses provide a major fix to the problem of poor eyesight in the developing world. Fixing this problem can significantly improve the economic well-being, health and life expectancy of millions.

– Andrew Michaels

Sources: Forbes, Gizmag New York Times Eyejusters Global Eyesight
Photo: Business Opportunities

visionspringWith all the issues around the globe, the world’s lack of eyeglasses probably does not occur to some people. However, around 703 million people have a vision problem that requires the use of glasses—and few of these 703 million people ever get them.

VisionSpring, an organization that provides glasses to the poor, realizes that more than 90 percent of these people live in a developing country. It also realizes that simply providing a worker with reading glasses for a mere $4 can improve his or her wage by up to $108 dollars per year. For citizens of developing countries, this amount could change the quality of someone’s life.

Founder and chairman of VisionSpring, Jordan Kassalow says that the organization’s operations rely on the motto “See to Learn, See to Work, and See For Safety.” Giving a pair of glasses to a student can equate to advancing his or her education up to a year, and glasses prevent injuries on the road and on the job.

Every dollar donated to VisionSprings adds up to an economic impact of $23 dollars. The organization sends out “vision entrepreneurs” to asses a community’s vision and spread the word about the opportunities available to that community. They travel around the world to the most impoverished places to advocate for this cause. This is nice because that means the help is coming to those who need it instead of vice versa—for example, in India someone could lose up to $10 dollars traveling to purchase a $4 dollar pair of glasses.

After performing vision tests for customers and providing them with glasses, a person can see his or her work productivity increase by 35 percent. VisionSpring also aims to consider the cultural differences between these various locations to best suit that community’s needs. For example, the organization has come up with a special pair of clear glasses for UV protection that can still shield eyes from the sun but are not the traditionally dark-shaded sunglasses the Western world is accustomed to.

“As I placed the glasses on the boy’s nose, I watched as the blank stare of a blind person transformed into an expression of unadulterated joy—I was witnessing someone seeing his world for the first time,” recounts Kassalow after giving one of his first pair of glasses to a seven-year-old boy in Mexico. VisionSprings considers a little-known issue that can bring big results—not only higher literacy and productivity rates but simply joy.

– Melissa Binns

Sources: The Christian Science Monitor, Forbes, VisionSpring
Photo: Boston Big Picture

New Developments in International Eye Care
Many in the world today suffer from vision impairments. 90% of those in need of attention for this deficiency reside in developing countries. Nearly 80% of these cases can be treated with medical attention. The issue lies in the accessibility and cost of these products, as it is difficult to deliver expensive treatments to everyone.

Enter Adlens, an inexpensive solution to the woes of developing countries. Liquid crystals inside eyeglasses create the capability to adjust prescriptions with the simple twist of a knob. Two knobs on both ends of the glasses can be turned to custom fit every person. Fluid in the glasses alters membranes that make each prescription unique. These glasses can help alleviate short, medium, and long distant sight issues for all types of vision troubles.

Over the past 20 years, significant progress has been made with international eye care. Governments have formed specialized eye care programs and even have governments addressing the issue with legislation. Countries like Ghana and Morocco have eliminated eye ailments such as trachoma.

There is still much more to be done. 285 million people across the globe still suffer from vision impairments. At an affordable price of just $80, many of these people can be given the treatment they deserve.

Adlens may not be a cure to vision impairments affecting millions across the globe, but it is a treatment that can impact many suffering from impairments, giving them the ability to see once more and live the best lives possible.

– William Norris
Sources: NY Times, World Health Organization
Photo: Seva