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Good vision for everyone?

Photo: Loren Joseph

About innovative projects and NGOs

There are projects that are difficult to earn money with. For example, helping blind people to get through their everyday lives more easily or to recognize the connections between climate change and eye health. This makes it even more important that particularly dedicated people take on such problems. Fortunately, there are hundreds of organizations worldwide that are tackling a wide range of vision associated issues and fight avoidable blindness. The following article presents some of those special projects. 

The World Health Organization says: “Globally, at least 1 billion people have a near or distance vision impairment that could have been prevented or has yet to be addressed”. The problem starts when children cannot follow the lessons at school due to visual impairments. Adults have problems when looking for a job or practicing their profession, right through to senior citizens who can no longer read ‒ simply because they do not have the necessary aids.

Risk of blindness

Also, the risk of going blind is significantly higher in developing countries. There are many examples of avoidable cases of blindness, most of which affect the poorest people.

For example, almost 17 million people are blind from cataracts, especially in Asia and Africa. People who go blind from cataracts are not operated on, even though the blindness would be easy to treat with an operation, as it is usually done in richer countries.

At least 3.6 million people worldwide are blind as a result of the eye disease glaucoma. It is usually caused by high intraocular pressure, which damages the optic nerve. As there is no pain, many of those affected only notice that they are ill very late.

People especially in developing countries also go blind due to a bacterial eye infection called trachoma, which is caused by a lack of water and the associated poor hygiene conditions.

People can also go blind due to an infection with the so-called river blindness or onchocerosis. The blackfly, which is found in West and Central Africa, South America and parts of the Arabian Peninsula, is responsible for spreading the disease. The drug Mectizan, which must be taken once or twice a year, helps to combat this disease. The distribution of this tablet by aid organizations costs around one euro.

In total, almost 1.44 million children are blind. The main causes of childhood blindness in developing countries are uncorrected defective vision, congenital cataracts, congenital glaucoma, corneal scarring caused by traditional medicine and vitamin A deficiency disease (xerophthalmia). Other important causes are rubella or retinal disease (retinopathy) in premature babies.

To tackle these problems, a variety of organizations try to improve the situation by training specialists, establish new clinics, train opticians, provide cheap glasses and much more. The approach is often holistic: helping people to help themselves. Those initiatives can bring other benefits in addition to eye health: economic, social, and in some cases even environmental improvements.

Global advocacy organization with more than 250 members

IAPB joined forces with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and Nepal Eye Hospital to conduct the first-ever workplace eye screening at the ILO’s Kathmandu office. Photo: IAPB

The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) is an association with over 250 member organizations from all over the world. These include NGOs, eye clinics, professional associations and many more. They are all united by one goal: to put an end to avoidable sight loss.

As a global advocacy organization, the IAPB aims to raise awareness among key international institutions in order to obtain resources that will subsequently enable better access to vision care worldwide.

For this reason, the IAPB also regularly establishes global campaigns. Currently, for example, the 2030 In Sight initiative. It is a clear call to action to anchor sight as a fundamental economic, social and developmental issue, to integrate eye health into broader healthcare systems and to drive change among patients, consumers and the market. All with the aim of ending preventable sight loss worldwide.

The IAPB also focuses on the importance of climate protection. For example, it has set up the Climate Action Work Group. According to the agency, the devastating effects of climate change will also have an impact on eye health. It is predicted that the frequency of trachoma infections, cataracts, eye lesions, severe allergic eye diseases, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and eye injuries will increase.

In addition, extreme weather events will lead to disruption of critical eye care services such as cataract surgery and refractive error services including the supply of medication and eyeglasses.

Be My Eyes connects blind or visually impaired people with “sighted” people

Photo: sedrik2007/unsplash

Not being able to distinguish yellow from red, not being able to read street names or not being able to find an object that has fallen ‒ these are all everyday problems for severely visually impaired people.

Hans Jørgen Wiberg ‒ himself visually impaired ‒ has developed a truly innovative solution to this problem. “Be My Eyes” is an application that now connects more than 500,000 blind or visually impaired people worldwide with sighted volunteers via a live video call. The “sighted” people can thus help quickly and easily with everyday tasks: Determining the color, reading out the street name in a foreign city or explaining where the lost key is.  “We have over six million volunteers. Most people have never met a blind person before when they sign up,” explains Wiberg. “When a volunteer receives their first video call, they recognize first-hand the barriers that limit inclusion. Then he says: “This washing machine is impossible for blind people to use!”, and this realization is a step towards a more inclusive society.” The visual aid is available in more than 180 languages from one million volunteers. The service is free and can be used as often as someone like. Most calls can be answered within 30 seconds.

The inventor also has an appeal to society: “Don’t just develop for us, develop with us.” After all, who should know better than the visually impaired themselves what they need?

Easily produced glasses for round about one dollar

Traditionally dressed woman in Bolivia. Photo: GoodVision

The aim of the GoodVision association is to provide basic eyecare for all people worldwide. This is why the GoodVision Glasses were developed. The glasses themselves are made of flexible spring steel wire. They are very light and at the same time extremely stable. The prefabricated plastic lenses are clicked into the frame according to the prescription determined in the eye test.

The most important thing, however, is that the total material costs are only around one dollar and that the glasses can be manufactured very easily and simply.

At the heart of this is the bending machine, a device on a metal plate with which the spring steel wires can be precisely bent into shape.  As the machine works without electricity, it can also be used in areas where there is no reliable power supply.

Mobile vision center in Colombia. Photo: GoodVision

However, there is now also an educational concept for glasses. A specially created training course enables trainees to carry out a simple eye test and to fit glasses, for example. Training is also provided in the eyewear production facilities and particular attention is paid to providing jobs for people with physical disabilities. In Lima (Peru’s capital), on the other hand, only single mothers from the surrounding Pueblos Jóvenes, the desert-like outskirts of Lima, work in eyewear production.

Around 400 people are employed in the eleven program countries in Asia, Africa and South America, some of whom finance the livelihoods of their entire families. This creates new jobs with prospects even in regions with poorly developed labor markets.

One cheap spectacle even for the most remote villages in the world

In 2021 the DOT glasses won the Red Dot Design award.

In 2021 the DOT glasses won the Red Dot Design award. 

In 2014, the initiators of DOTglasses started with the aim of making glasses accessible even to people in the most remote villages in the world. The idea resulted in a radically simplified lens concept that does not strive for perfect correction but accepts deviations of up to one diopter. As the initial aim was to ensure that people could cope with everyday life, participate in working life and drive a car.

The result is a pair of glasses that offers a one-size-fits-all frame. However, the frame has an adjustable frame that can be quickly adapted to different head shapes. The design was developed by MBtech, a joint venture between Mercedes-Benz and AKKA Technologies, and has even won the Red Dot Design Award. There is also a standardized range of lenses. Thanks to the “one-size-fits-all” glasses, the costs have been kept as low as possible.

Mission for children

Photo: Getty Images

The focus of EyeCare4Kids is particularly on children in need. Since 2001, the organization has been working to provide children with free eye examinations and glasses. There are now nine clinics where children receive those professional eye examinations and the glasses they need. After more than 20 years, the mission has helped more than 400,000 children to see better.

There is now also a virtual clinic called Sight the World, which aims to help even more people to see better who previously had no access to examinations and glasses.

Focus on building an inclusive society for children

Photo: seventyfourimages/envato

“80% of childhood blindness can be prevented or cured” states the organization CSF Global. It all started with the founders aim to improve the situation of blind children in Bangladesh. However, they quickly realized that hardly anything was known about the situation of blind children in this country. One more reason to change that.

Founded in 2001, the non-profit organization is today committed to building a rights-based inclusive society for children with disabilities in developing countries around the world. The aim is to ensure that no child is disabled due to preventable or treatable causes and that all children with disabilities have access to professional support.

The organization does pioneer research about disabilities in children in developing countries. Among other things, it provides internationally recognized guidelines, manuals and more, thereby providing inclusive aids.

Special attention is still also paid to visual impairments. To date the organization has provided over 14,750 spectacles to children with vision impairments and over 1,000 white canes to blind children in Bangladesh.

Specs 2030 initiative

WHO / Carolina Pardal Belinchón

Uncorrected refractive errors are the main cause of visual impairment in children and adults. According to the WHO, it is estimated that only 36% of people with refractive errors in distance vision have access to suitable glasses. While 800 million people have uncorrected presbyopia that could easily be corrected with reading glasses.

The Specs 2030 initiative, organized by the World Health Organization, is committed to a world in which all people have access to high-quality, affordable vision care services. The initiative aims to support member states in achieving the goal set by the 74th World Health Assembly: the effective refractive error coverage.

The initiative calls for coordinated global action amongst all stakeholders across five strategic pillars to address the key challenges to improve refractive error coverage: improve access to refractive services, build capacity of personnel to provide refractive services, improve the populations education, reduce the costs of refractive services and strengthen surveillance and research.

Raising media awareness to prevent blindness

Focus on Eye Health Summit. Photo: Prevent Blindness

The precursor to Prevent Blindness already rooted in the USA back in 1908 after the founders realized that 30 percent of blindness in children could simply be prevented. Today, Prevent Blindness is the US leading volunteer eye health and safety organization dedicated to fighting blindness and saving sight.

The organization focuses on public eye health and safety education. Through regular media campaigns such as the declaration of this July as Dry Eye Awareness Month, the organization generates a great deal of media attention. Every year, it organizes the Focus on Eye Health Summit as a digital interactive event for interested parties from all over the world.

The organization is dedicated to professional training and technical assistance as well as the creation of direct eye health services. 1,455,222 children and adults were cared for in the centers. For example, through vision screenings or referrals to ECPs.

Access to visual aids within a day´s journey

Affordable vision screening for developing communities. Photo: OneSight Foundation

EssilorLuxottica established the OneSight Foundation in 2013. The aim is to provide people all over the world with access to vision care. The organization has created permanent access to vision care for an estimated 872 million people. Thanks in part to more than 29,000 rural optical points. 77 million people from under-reserved regions have received glasses.

The Foundation works worldwide with governments and global and local NGOs and private sector partners. The organization trains people and helps them to set up optical stores and offer mobile services. It also works with governments and communities to establish next to hospitals and clinics also permanent vision centers. The aim is for everyone to have access to visual aids within a day’s journey.

The organization also invests, for example, in the development and production of inexpensive digital screening tools that can be used without intensive training.

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