I work in a farming area where there are many villages. Some of my patients are teachers and they tell me that many of the children need glasses but their families can’t afford them. What can I do to help?

I have worked in rural areas in Ghana, Vietnam and Pakistan. I have worked with eye specialists who were frustrated because the education of many children was affected by needing glasses but not having them.

A look at the research literature indicates that there is a prevalence of uncorrected short and longsightedness in school-aged children and university students ranging from around 3 to 11%. The higher figures are from studies of rural schoolchildren. By uncorrected short and longsightedness, I mean blurred vision that can be overcome using glasses.

What I find very upsetting about these figures is first, that they are similar to those of when I qualified in 1990. Not much has changed in the last 30 years. Second, the production cost of a pair of glasses is around 3 US dollars. That’s the total cost for a frame and two lenses.

For children who are shortsighted the effect of not having glasses is blurred vision when looking at far away things such as the board in the classroom (see figure). Can you imagine trying to follow what the teacher is teaching if the board looked like this? Full educational potential cannot be realised.

For children who are longsighted the effect of not having glasses is blurred vision for close things such as the print in books. High levels of longsightedness can also cause the board to be blurred as well as books (see figure). Can you imagine trying to read a school book if the print looked like this? Full educational potential cannot be realised.

Some children will tell their teachers or parents that they can’t see but others will think that their blurred vision is normal and it’s the same for everyone in the class. They think that they simply aren’t trying hard enough. These children are not likely to reach their full educational potential.

Some children will have known blurred vision problems but their parents cannot afford to them buy glasses.

When I set up my community practice in 2000 myself and the other two partners decided not to charge a fee for glasses for children. The government provides a fee for supplying glasses to children but all the local competitors added on extra fees. We decided not to. We made a little profit on some glasses for children but on most, we broke even.

I urge eye specialists who are working in poor areas to consider proving glasses to poor children at a minimal profit.

Help your community by helping people reach their full educational and life potential.

I believe if you can see well, you can learn well and then you will live well.

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