Magic glasses for the developing world

September 17, 2009 by  
Filed under VISION

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reading glasses 2I’ve been wearing glasses for more than 30 years now and it has always been a hassle to go back regularly to the optometrist, not to mention expensive.

In the developing world, many people are suffering from poor eyesight but do have the means to obtained a pair of glasses that can help them read, work, and see better.

Magic glasses

But hey, here’s a cool invention that presents an affordable solution. According to CNN, Joshua Silver, a physics professor at the University of Oxford has developed the so-called self-refraction glasses which have lenses that can be adjusted by the wearer to the right strength.

So how do these magic glasses work?

The secret of the self-refractive glasses is their lenses.
They consist of clear membranes filled with silicon oil, protected by plastic discs. The wearer can adjust the amount of oil in the lenses using a dial fitted to a syringe on the arms of the glasses.
Changing the amount of oil in the lenses changes their curvature, which alters their strength. When someone has adjusted the lenses to suit their vision, the lenses are sealed with a valve and the syringes removed, giving near-instant glasses with no need for an optometrist.

Now, that is what I call a neat innovation although this won’t make optometrists happy.

Global Vision

However, Silver’s motivation in developing these lenses which took almost 20 years is to help people in developing countries who don’t even have any access to an optometrist. In some countries for example, there is one optometrist for every million people. An estimated billion people in the developing world need glasses.

According to Sillver

“Any model of delivery of vision correction in the developing world that depends on eye care professionals won’t work. If you find a model that doesn’t rely on them then you potentially have a solution.”

So far, 30,000 pairs of these self-refraction glasses have been distributed worldwide. Distribution has been done through the adult literacy program in Ghana, and the Global Vision 2020 initiative of the U.S. Military Humanitarian and Civic Assistance (HCA) Program.

Kevin White is the driving force behind HCA’s Global Vision 2020. In order for the initiative to be sustainable, it not only distributes glasses, it also trains people from local NGOs to dispense glasses and teach people how to use them.

The limitations

There are some limitations to overcome before White’s and Silver’s vision becomes a reality. These are:

  • Logistics. Manufacturing and delivering a billion pairs of glasses by 2020 is a daunting task
  • Effectiveness. The glasses do not work for those with astigmatism and not tested in children
  • Cost. It costs $19 to manufacture a pair of self-refraction glasses, a pittance in the Western world, a fortune in many poor countries.
  • Style. The current version of the glasses is functional but not fashionable and may not be attractive. New models are currently being developed.

Now, that’s a pair of glasses I would love to have, fashionable or not!

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