Do you know how many people in the world are blind or can’t see due to being unable to afford corrective lenses? It’s about 300 million of the world’s population, using a conservative estimate. Uncorrected refractive error is a problem that has quietly become widely prevalent. Imagine the loss of productivity overall to a country’s economy, and, more importantly on an individual level, the potential daily stress and distress of being unable to live one’s live as fully and meaningfully as one would like. And, then, there’s the burden on family and relatives to care for the elderly who have restricted eyesight. Poverty and severe visual impairment are closely linked.
Fortunately, the problem has not gone unnoticed. Several prominent organizations have focused on the issue and put into place key initiatives. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), have instituted a joint initiative, VISION 2020: The Right to Sight, and are working with multiple organizations to eradicate preventable blindness.
But, we will only start noticing the impact of these programs in another decade or so. What do we do now in the intervening years?
The near-term solution, as we see it, has two parts to it. At the core, is to find a low-cost but high-quality source for custom-fit eyeglasses and cataract lenses. We believe strongly that anyone and everyone who needs an eye aid, must be properly tested and measured and a customized eye aid made for them. While recycling reusable eyeglasses could be attempted, programs doing this to date have often encountered inefficiencies in low match rates and inventory management. We have identified and partnered with three vendors based in Sri Lanka and China who can provide us with high quality but cost effective eyeglasses for as low as $5 to $10.
The first phase then is to create a true non-profit enterprise that is able to conduct clinics with certified opticians and provide needy individuals with prescription eyeglasses in Sri Lanka and the US, while partnering with governmental and non-governmental institutions and groups, as appropriate, to reach and serve those who cannot afford the eye aids they need to lead productive and meaningful lives.
The second phase is to try and move to a more self-sustaining model, a social entrepreneurship, both to lessen the dependence on contributions and to significantly increase revenues to be able to expand the scope of the organization’s mission to as broad a population as possible. In time, a social venture, that partners with government and non-governmental organizations, might well prove to have an established niche in the quest of the SOMS vision to have “a world where everyone can see.”
Holden, BA | Community Eye Health Journal | Vol 20 ISSUE 63 | SEPTEMBER 2007
WHO | WHO releases the new global estimates on visual impairment | accessed March, 2011 at http://www.who.int/blindness/en/index.html