Better Vision for the World, on a Budget

Monday, January 4, 2010

EGHEL, the Netherlands — With AIDS, malaria and other diseases costing millions of lives every year, worrying about the vision of people in the developing world may seem like an indulgence.

But supplying glasses for the world’s poor may be one of the most valuable investments around. Hundreds of millions of people — some put the estimates as high as two billion — do not have the corrective lenses that would allow them to lead better, more productive lives.

A study published in a World Health Organization journal in June estimated the cost in lost output at $269 billion a year. Moreover, tackling vision problems early can help prevent later blindness.

Now efforts are under way to find a means of distributing inexpensive glasses on a wide scale. One promising technology is self-adjustable spectacles, which let untrained wearers set the right focus themselves in less than a minute, greatly reducing the need for trained optometrists, who are rarely available in Africa and many parts of Asia. Though these adjustable glasses cannot yet help with conditions like astigmatism, at least 80 percent of refractive errors can be fixed.

At least three organizations are now offering their own versions of low-cost adjustable spectacles. Two are relatively new groups based in the Netherlands that have received little international recognition. The third, based in England and championing a Britishinvention called AdSpecs, has been attracting widespread media attention for more than a decade.

Source: New York Times (link opens in a new window)