Nearly 100 million near-sighted teenagers in developing countries may soon be able to see normally without the need for specialist eye care as a project starts distributing specially designed glasses costing just US$15.
The Child ViSion project, which will begin handing out the first 50,000 pairs of their self-adjusting glasses in Asia this year, aims to provide affordable vision correction to all children who need it in the developing world.
The initiative, paid for by donors and sponsors, is run by the UK non-profit Centre for Vision in the Developing World. They hope that establishing long-term distribution schemes via schools will bring down the costs.
“There are roughly 100 million myopic children in the developing world who need eyeglasses to see the board in class. The Child Vision glasses are essentially an educational intervention to get them to see clearly,” says the project’s founder and director, Joshua Silver.
The prototype glasses are a smaller, lighter and more fashionable version of the adult model, Adspecs. Both work by the wearer pumping silicone oil into the lenses, which change shape, allowing the user to instantly adjust the glasses to their needs.
Self-adjusting lenses are not new. Companies such as Focus on Vision have developed glasses with specially designed lenses that are adjusted by sliding them back and forth.
But according to Silver, Child ViSion glasses are the only variable-power design based on clinically tested data.
In the tests Silver and colleagues measured how accurately around 1,500 near-sighted teenagers aged 12 to 17 in China and the United States used the self-adjusting lenses. They found 95 per cent of children achieved vision just short of normal when looking at the standard eye chart.
“That’s good enough to function in class,” says Silver.
But, Peter Ackland, chief executive officer of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, which leads the VISION 2020 programme along with the WHO, says the glasses are not a replacement for professional eye care.
“Our approach is to try to develop local services where you can get an eye examination at the same time as specs. If you bypass that, you’re going to miss fundamental eye problems that can cause serious problems later in life.”
In places such as Sub-Saharan Africa, however, there can be as few as one optometrist for every million people. Until that number increases, Silver says the glasses can be a useful temporary solution.