The headline in a NYT story was arresting, “A Simple way to Improve a Billion Lives: Eyeglasses. Poor eyesight is not the kind of problem that usually makes headlines and yet according to the WHO it costs $200 billion a year in productivity. Poor eyesight means that truck drivers in Nigeria and drivers in India drive without seeing what they need to see and end up causing more accidents, many involving fatalities. It means that school children who can’t see to do their school work properly are labeled poor learners and held back from the very education that could help them. It means that farmers can’t see small pest infestations or may not read pesticides labels properly, it means that workers fear for their jobs because they may not be able to properly read instructions or the texts sent them. People are held back when they have poor eyesight and economic barriers compound the human ones. Several organizations are now trying to draw attention to this problem and in the case of EYElliance also trying to raise money to solve it. The number of people affected alone makes it a problem worthy of notice, at least one billion people need glasses and perhaps as high as two and a half billion. It’s more than money, there are very few vision centers in the affected countries and that means very little access. In Liberia for example until last year there were no vision clinics in the whole country. Besides money there are societal barriers. In a country like India, for example, there is the prejudice about wearing glasses. It may be considered an infirmity and a girl wearing glasses may not be as marriageable. Poor eyesight may be a big problem but it has a simple solution, it’s easy to diagnose, it’s not a contagious disease and does not require a vaccine and the difficulty of administering it. It also involves no big cash outlay, for a pair of eye glasses in many African or Indian countries can vary from a few cents to $2.00.
I do believe I’ll never take wearing glasses for granted again.