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Focusspec goes Nambia

CLEAR vision is a basic requirement for most tasks in life. Both education and work become near impossible without being able to see properly. Yet globally, an estimated 285 million people are visually impaired, and 80% of these cases are avoidable.
A simple pair of glasses can relieve chronic refractive errors and clarify poor sight. But this basic object, a thin plastic frame and two pieces of glass, are a luxury for the majority of people suffering from vision problems. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 90% of visually impaired people are in the developing world where cents are precious.

For the one billion people living on less than five dollars a day, buying a pair of costly glasses is not a priority. Similarly, visiting an optometrist for a fitting session is almost impossible for hundreds of millions of people. In the UK there is one optometrist for every 6 000 people, whilst in sub-Saharan Africa there is one for every one million.

Behind the inability to perform daily tasks, visual impairment effectively drains national economies. WHO estimates the world economy annually loses more than US$400 billion because of eye problems. And this problem effects all generations. “Millions of kids are not finishing school because they can’t see properly”, said John Friedman, director of NGO Focus on Vision, “teachers think they are naughty, but they just need glasses.” 

One new innovative solution to these daunting statistics is the Focusspec: a low cost pair of adjustable glasses. For the past two weeks director of the project, John Friedman, has been trialing the glasses in Opuwo with help from the Red Cross and a team of student volunteers.

Developed by Focus on Vision, the award winning glasses are built with two thin lenses that slide over each other, adjusting the focus like a camera lens. Retailing between N$160 and N$220, they will be the cheapest glasses on the market once they are available in late August.

Across Namibia, distribution outlets are currently being finalised with local retailers. “There are a lot of people with eye problems here and they don’t realise it”, said one early distributor, Michael Mulunga, “and even if they do know, they can’t afford to buy a decent pair [of glasses].”

Over the past six months Focusspecs have gone on sale in the UK, Uganda and South Africa. Based in the US, but manufacturing in the Netherlands, they are currently distributing 30 000 pairs annually.

Currently in Opuwo, a group of students from University College Roosevelt, Netherlands, are volunteering for the test launch. Distributing the glasses in local marketplaces, the volunteers have also given away 100 free pairs at the Secondary Schools Omureti and Putuvanga. “Lots of the kids did tests without realising that they couldn’t actually see properly”, said student Vincent de Ruiter, “they adjusted the glasses and it became clear. They could see.” 

Aparacio Jose Paredes Lopes, a father in Opuwa who purchased a pair for his daughter, said “I did not know that my daughter had weak vision. These, I can pay for, but if I had to go to Oshakati and buy expensive glasses in the shop, then my money would be finished.” His 12-year-old daughter, Carla said, “I think my grades will get better.”

Clear vision for the young is important for those who need it, but for the elderly, failing sight is a more widespread issue. Vision naturally deteriorates with age so that almost everyone over the age of 65 needs a pair of glasses. Without them work becomes more difficult and daily rituals, like reading the Bible, become almost impossible. The limitations imposed by poor sight are extensive, but the problem itself is reasonably simple to fix.
This article is copyrighted by The Namibian. See: 

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