VisionSpring: The World Health Organization says that at least 2.2 billion across the world suffer from either distance or near vision impairment, creating effectively creating a huge global financial burden of up to $410 billion. The report furnished by WHO a few months ago further states that almost half of the affected cases could’ve been prevented, of which many can still be prevented. Vision impairment is a disorder that might have critical as well as rippling effects on one’s livelihood. Recently, the Bombay High Court heard a plea by a woman, who challenged the Maharashtra Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy Council over not allowing those with 40% vision impairment to practice physiotherapy in the state.
Lack of awareness
Vision impairment assumes all the more significance when it comes to the skilled workforce, mostly at the bottom of the pyramid - for instance, weavers, artisans, farmers, tea garden workers etc. Though lack of awareness and timely eye care is to be blamed for the same, it is also about some perceptions pertaining to our usual lifestyle. “Many people are self-conscious about wearing eyeglasses. We can all play a role in changing perception. The next time you hear someone associating glasses with aging, a child being teased, or a parent worrying about a girl’s marriage prospects, say something. Eyeglasses are a 700-year-old technology. There is no reason why everyone who needs to see clearly shouldn’t be wearing them,” says Dr Jordan Kassalow, the Founder of VisionSpring, a global social enterprise that has been working in this regard across several countries, including India, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia and Vietnam.
Eye health mission
Elaborating upon the kind of collaborative effort required to make significant headway in this regard, he added that in wake of the vast population scenario, the issue needs to be addressed collectively by government agencies, NGOs and hospitals, among others. He said, “We deliver on our eye health mission across 23 states, working with more than 500 hospitals/healthcare facilities and NGOs, 15 state governments and agencies, and 50 corporations as well as CSR entities.” This mechanism has helped VisionSpring distribute more than 50 lakh pairs of corrective eyeglasses in India, effectively “creating more than Rs. 8,100 Crore ($1.08 billion) in economic impact for low-income households”.
Adding that annually in India, they support vision screening for more than 27.5 lakh people while correcting the vision of more than 10 lakh with eyeglasses, he said if 50 lakh pairs of eyeglasses have been distributed across the country, “it means 50 lakh people can now see clearly to earn their living, to learn, and stay safe on the roads. Also, a similar number of people can now read bedtime stories to their grandchildren, see obstacles on the road while driving, or participate in mobile banking. Eyeglasses are a simple solution with life-changing impact”.
Routine eye checks are key
Eyeglasses resolve the most common vision issues, but people delay getting them. Vision deteriorates slowly and people may not realize how bad it is until they cannot thread a needle or read. Similarly, children with blurry vision are unaware they should be able to see the leaves on a tree rather than a green blur. Routine eye checks are key, and so are parents and teachers who can play a role in recognizing children’s squinting, headaches, and even behavioural issues as signs of vision problems,” said Dr Jordan Kassalow.
The social enterprise has meanwhile announced in Assam a multi-country ‘Livelihoods in Focus’ initiative that intends to address the vision impairment issue among tea garden workers, other agricultural and artisan communities. Based on a randomized controlled trial in Assam that suggested a 22% spike in productivity among tea pickers, and up to 32% for those above the age of 50, the drive was initiated and has till date witnessed over 82,000 screenings across the state, with near 75-90% getting their first ever pair of eyeglasses. The founder of VisionSpring mentions that vision correction through eyeglasses has the potential to add as much as 6% of incremental GDP to Assam’s economy. Following the northeastern state, the drive is expected to expand other tea-growing regions of India, as well as tea, coffee, cocoa and artisan regions of Bangladesh, Ghana, Kenya and Uganda.
VisionSpring’s manufacturing shifted from China to India
A few months ago, VisionSpring’s manufacturing was shifted from China to India. Referring to the factors that led to the shift, the founder said it was “a practical decision made in response to global supply chain issues in recent years,” adding that India has the potential to become a global hub for eyeglasses, aligned with the government’s ‘Make in India’ and ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ initiatives. He further said, “Being able to manufacture our eyeglasses domestically (in India) allows us to create more styles in direct response to the feedback we receive. Our frames are designed primarily for the low-income communities we serve, but we provide good, better, and best options in order to serve Indians across income levels. Last year we launched our newest collection of eyeglasses, Dare to Matter, which is our first-ever Made-in-India range.”
He emphasized that those without discretionary income should have the dignity of choosing the eyeglasses that best fit their face and their style. “We believe that eyeglasses should not be a luxury item. It is at our core to offer stylish, durable, quality eyeglasses that are accessible to all.
Eyeglasses help people gain improved productivity
Concluding the conversation, Dr Jordan Kassalow said, “Eyeglasses help people gain improved productivity, income and well-being the moment glasses move from case to face. They improve quality of life, reducing depression and anxiety, and increasing involvement in religious and family life. VisionSpring and our peers are working so that every person who needs eyeglasses will have them, but we can’t do it alone. Everyone can play a role, whether your role is contributing funding, or telling a young child in eyeglasses how stylish they look.