Saturday, 5 May 2018

A Simple Way to Improve a Billion Lives: Eyeglasses


PANIPAT, India — Shivam Kumar’s failing eyesight was manageable initially.

To better see the chalkboard, the 12-year-old moved to the front of the classroom, but in time, the indignities accumulated.

Increasingly blurry vision forced him to offer up flying kites then cricket after he was repeatedly whacked by balls he could not see.

The constant squinting gave him headaches, and he came to dread walking home from school.

“Sometimes I don’t see a motorcycle until it’s almost in my face,” he said.

As his grades flagged, so did his dreams of becoming a pilot.

“You can’t fly a plane if you’re blind,” he noted glumly.

The fix for Shivam’s declining vision, it seems, was remarkably simple.

He needed glasses.


More then a billion people around the world need eyeglasses but don’t have them, researchers say, an affliction long overlooked on lists of public health priorities.

Some estimates put that figure closer to 2.5 billion people.

They include thousands of nearsighted Nigerian truck drivers who strain to ascertain pedestrians darting across the road and middle-aged coffee farmers in Bolivia whose inability to ascertain objects up close makes it hard to identify ripely beans for harvest.

Then there are the tens of many children like Shivam across the planet whose families cannot afford an eye fixed exam or the prescription eyeglasses that might help them excel in class.

“Many of those kids are classified as poor learners or simply dumb and thus don’t progress at college,” said Kovin Naidoo, global director of Our Children’s Vision, a corporation that gives free or inexpensive eyeglasses across Africa.

“That just adds another hurdle to countries struggling to interrupt the cycle of poverty.”

In an era when many people still perish from preventable or treatable illnesses, many major donors devote their largess to combating killers like AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.

In 2015, only $37 million was spent on delivering eyeglasses to people within the developing world, but one-hundredth of resources dedicated to global health issues, consistent with EYElliance, a nonprofit group trying to boost money and convey attention to the matter of uncorrected vision.

So far, the group’s own fund-raising has yielded only a couple of million dollars, consistent with its organizers.

it's enlisted Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the previous Liberian president, Elaine L.

Chao, the transportation secretary for us and Paul Polman, the chief executive of Unilever, among others, in an effort to catapult the difficulty onto global development wish lists.

They contend that an investment in improving sight would pay off.

The World Health Organization has estimated the matter costs the worldwide economy quite $200 billion annually in lost productivity.

“Lack of access to eye care prevents billions of individuals around the world from achieving their potential, and maybe a major barrier to economic and human progress” said Madeleine K.

Albright, the previous secretary of state who is additionally involved within the group.

Hubert Sagnieres, the chief executive of Essilor, a French eyeglass company and a partner within the fund-raising drive said he often confronts ambivalence when pitching the cause to big-name philanthropists.

In an interview, he recalled a recent conversation with Gates, whose foundation has spent tens of billions of dollars battling infectious diseases within the developing world.

He said he reminded Mr. Gates of his own childhood nearsightedness, noting that without glasses, he may need faltered in class and maybe never gone on to start out Microsoft.

Mr. Gates, he said, politely demurred, saying he had other priorities.

A spokeswoman for the Gates Foundation declined to comment.

The initiative’s backers mean that responding to the world’s vision crisis doesn't require the invention of the latest drugs or solving nettlesome issues like distributing refrigerated vaccines in countries with poor infrastructure.

Factories in Thailand, China, and therefore the Philippines can manufacture so-called readers for fewer than 50 cents a pair; prescription glasses that correct nearsightedness is often produced for $1.50.

But money alone won’t easily solve systemic challenges faced by countries like Uganda, which has just 45 eye doctors for a nation of 41 million.

In rural India, glasses are seen as a symbol of infirmity, and in many places, a hindrance for young women seeking to urge married. Until last year, Liberia didn't have one clinic.

“People in rural areas haven't even seen a toddler wearing glasses,” said Ms. Sirleaf, who was president of Liberia from 2006 to the present year?

“Drivers don’t even know they need a deficiency. they only drive the simplest they will .”

On a recent afternoon, many children in powder-blue uniforms giddily jostled each other within the dusty courtyard of a high school in Panipat, two hours north of the latest Delhi.

The students, all from poor families, were having their eyesight checked by VisionSpring, a nonprofit group started by Jordan Kassalow, a replacement York an optometrist who helped found out EYElliance, which works with local governments to distribute subsidized eyeglasses in Asia and Africa.

For most, it had been the primary time anyone had checked their eyesight.

The students were both excited and terrified. Roughly 12 percent were flagged as having a weak vision and sent to an adjacent classroom where workers using refractor lenses conducted more tests.

Shivam, the boy who dreamed of being a pilot walked away with a pair of purple framed spectacles donated by Warby Parker, the American eyewear company, which also purchased the screenings.

“Everything is so clear,” Shivam exclaimed as he looked with wonder around the classroom.

Anshu Taneja, VisonSpring’s India director, said that providing that first pair of glasses is pivotal; people that have experienced the advantages of correct vision will often buy a second pair if their prescription changes or they lose the glasses they need come to depend upon.

Ratan Singh, 45, a sharecropper who recently got his first pair of reading glasses, said he couldn't imagine living without them now.

Standing during a field of ripening wheat, he said his inability to ascertain tiny pests on the stalks of his crop had led to decreasing yields.

He sheepishly recalled the time he sprayed the incorrect insecticide because he couldn’t read the label.

“I was always asking people to assist me to read but I used to be becoming a burden,” he said.

Last month, after he accidentally broke his glasses, Mr. Singh, who supports his wife and 6 daughters, didn't hesitate to hand over the 60 rupees, roughly 90 cents, for a replacement pair.

Most adults over 50 need reading glasses — quite a billion people within the developing world, consistent with the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness — though the overwhelming majority simply accept they're creeping disability.

That’s what happened to D. Periyanayakam, 56, and influence company employee whose job requires him to read electrical meters.

His failing eyesight also made it hard to drive or answer text messages from customers and associates.

“I figured it had been an only matter of your time before they suspended me,” he said during a visit to mobile clinic travel by Aravind Eye Hospital, a nonprofit institution that screened his vision and told him he would soon need cataract surgery.

Mr. Periyanayakam returned to figure that day with a $2 pair of glasses.

He was among 400 people that showed up at a daylong clinic during high school travel by ophthalmologists, lens grinders, and vision screeners.

Aravind dispenses 600,000 pairs of glasses annually in India and has expanded its efforts to Nepal, Bangladesh, and countries in Africa through local partners.

The hospital trains its own vision screeners, most of them young women; a separate program trains grade school teachers to check their students’ sight using eye charts.

Then there's the matter of road safety.

Surveys show that a worrisome number of drivers on the road in developing countries have an uncorrected vision.

Traffic fatality rates are far higher in low-income countries; in Africa, for instance, the speed is almost triple that of Europe, consistent with the W.H.O. Experts say a big number of India’s roughly 200,000 traffic deaths annually are tied to poor vision.

In a country with an enormous number of drivers, among them nine million truckers, the govt agencies that administer licenses are ill-equipped to affect the matter of declining vision, critics say.

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