VisionSpring: Improving Lives, Saving Vision

VIDEO: Dr. Richard Besser talks about making a difference for those less fortunate.
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If you have trouble seeing or reading up close after age 40 -- a common complaint -- the solution is simple: Just pick up a pair of readers at the drug store for a few dollars.

But what if there weren't any reading glasses you could buy, and suddenly you could no longer do your job or read a book because you couldn't see?

That's the case for millions of people in the developing world, where loss of near vision after age 40 means the difference between being able to support their family or going hungry.

But now a New York ophthalmologist named Dr. Jordan Kasselow is working to change that, with a nonprofit group called VisionSpring that offers inexpensive reading glasses, the kind you find at American drugstores, to thousands of trained health workers in developing countries so they can sell them at affordable rates to their community.

ABC News' Chief Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser recently visited a VisionSpring eye clinic outside of Bangladesh, where a trained health care worker appeared on a patch of dirt with simple supplies to test the eyes of those with failing vision.

The day Besser visited, a woman from Bangladesh got more than her ability to see clearly, she got her life back as well.

Abana, a seamstress by profession, could no longer thread her needles, but minutes after putting on a pair VisionSpring glasses her sight was restored.

Another man came to the clinic in search of help. He was a middle-aged carpenter whose hands had been paid the price for his failing sight, after missing the nail and hitting his hand instead.

Only five minutes later he too was able to see clearly again.

"Is it better?" Besser asked the carpenter.

"A lot better," he said.

Only minutes after getting his new glasses the carpenter was hammering away, building a new house and a new life for his family.

Millions of people around the world lose their productivity and their quality of life because they can't see properly. Like many places around the world in rural Bangladesh, glasses are like gold.

Simply put, if you can't see you can't work and if you can't work, you and your family can't survive.

"What VisionSpring does is deliver those eyeglasses to people who are too poor to afford them throughout the world," Kassalow told ABC News.

VisionSpring buys the glasses in bulk and the patients pay about $2, about a half a day's wages. It also keeps people employed.

For many glasses allow them to remain above the poverty line.

"If I didn't have glasses, I would lose my job," Bangla told ABC News.

Nujihan, the woman selling the glasses, explained how she was able to send her children to school simply from selling the VisionSpring glasses. She had been illiterate before her health care training.

Now she is a local celebrity. She earns 20 cents for every pair she sells, but makes a good wage for her community.

"We are looking to change the world one pair of glasses and one pair of eyes at a time," Kassalow said.

Learn More: In Bangladesh, if you don't live in the capital of Dhaka, you may never have access to simple, life-changing reading glasses, selling them for a few dollars a pair. When donors send them $12, it buys three pairs of glasses.

For more information, go to Visionspring.org and SaveOne.net.

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