By JOY MARINI, Director of Corporate Contributions for Johnson & Johnson, Maternal and Child Health
“I need longer arms.” That is a phrase that I remember hearing my parents say, and as I have gotten older, that phrase now has a personal meaning. Most people, as they pass 40 years old, begin developing presbyopia, which is a condition where the eyes lose the ability to focus on close objects. We start holding our books farther away to read the fine print because we can’t see things that are near. Like gray hair, it is a natural progression of aging.
I was hemming my son’s pants for Boy Scouts the other day and I could not thread the needle. I could not even see the eye of the needle or the thread. I reached over to my eyeglasses – a cheap pair from a local pharmacy. They’re so inexpensive that I keep several pairs of eyeglasses around my house and I don’t think twice about it.
However, for people living in the developing world, the solution is not as easy.
People living in developing countries often rely on producing fine work, such as tailoring, weaving, or even repairing small items to earn a living, What happens when they have trouble seeing? Are they at risk of losing their livelihoods when they are unable to perform the skills that they need to support their families?
The cost of vision loss is a staggering $3 trillion for the 733 million people living with poor vision and blindness across the globe, and 87 percent of the visually impaired live in developing countries. Besides the economic effects, poor vision prevents people them from living full, independent lives. Eyeglasses are a cost-effective solution that not only improves one’s sight, but also the quality of life for people in the developing world.
VisionSpring works to provide high-quality, low-cost vision care and eyeglasses to communities across the developing world, where access to basic vision care is not available. The purchase of $4 eyeglasses increases one person’s productivity by 35 percent a year. This translates to earning roughly an additional $381 over a two-year period, which makes a huge difference for a person living off two dollars a day.
Johnson & Johnson has been partnering with VisionSpring to provide low-cost eyeglasses and screenings to people in Indonesia and Bangladesh. Besides providing care and eyeglasses, VisionSpring’s model works with local microcredit organizations, such as BRAC, to empower and train women to become Vision Entrepreneurs. The Vision Entrepreneurs are set up with an “optometry shop” bag that contains a basic screening kit and a variety of eyeglasses. They are able to do basic screenings, sell a variety of eyeglasses and refer to an optometrist if they cannot help the person that they have screened.
These women are helping to fill a gap in the healthcare system by providing the care otherwise unavailable in their local villages. And in doing so, they are working to provide for their own families, as well as helping to improve the quality of life for the people they serve. VisionSpring’s work fits right into my vision of the future where people can be productive throughout their lives.
October 13 is World Sight Day. VisionSpring is helping individuals get their livelihoods back and to lead fuller, healthier lives. VisionSpring was featured on Good Morning America’s segment, “Be the Change, Save a Life” in June.