The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness estimates that there are more than one billion people around the world who need eyeglasses. Others say that the number is closer to 2.5 billion. The results are fewer children being educated, more people being struck down by drivers with poor eyesight, middle-aged coffee farmers in Bolivia cannot spot ripe beans for harvest and a host of other problems. The W.H.O. estimates that this costs the global economy $200 billion annually in lost productivity.
But we're not doing much about it. In 2015, only $37 million was spent on delivering eyeglasses to people in the developing world, less than one percent of resources devoted to global health issues. This is virtually unbelievable as no new drugs or scientific advances are needed. Factories in Thailand, China and the Philippines can manufacture so-called readers for less than 50 cents a pair; prescription glasses that correct nearsightedness can be produced for $1.50.
But we also need more eye doctors. For example, Uganda has just 45 eye doctors for a nation of 41 million. Until last year, Liberia did not have a single eye clinic.. And then there are social issues. In rural India, glasses are seen as a sign of infirmity, and in many places, a hindrance for young women seeking to get married.