Skip to main content
June 22, 2012

Accessible eye care innovations for developing nations

Talk to a philanthropically-inclined optometrists, and you’ll probably hear stories about life-changing trips that involve offering eye care assistance to visually-impaired people, either through the donation of glasses or accessible surgeries. Eye care innovations can literally change a person’s life, giving them not only the opportunity to see again, but to communicate better, and in many cases, give the opportunity to earn an income and gain more independence.

“In the field of development, vision care is sometimes put on the back burner to more critical issues like famine and disease,” a article explains. “However, according to a study by AMD Alliance International, the cost of vision loss on the global economy in 2010 is $3 trillion. The costs included in this study range from lost productivity to caregiver costs.”

Image via

There are a number of forward-thinking programs and organizations (like Sankara Eye Care and Aurolab) that are coming up with revolutionary new ideas, and that are inspiring skilled professionals to donate their time and resources to make a difference. Today we’re going to explore three accessible eye care innovations that are — or that have the potential to — significantly transform the lives of millions of people worldwide.

There are countless donation programs that enable people to give their old glasses to organizations that deliver them to poverty-stricken areas where people are in desperate need of prescription lenses. These programs have the potential to empower thousands, yet they also come with challenges. Like many socially-minded organizations, there is room for corruption, but even when everything is run ethically, issues of distribution still arise: how do you get enough doctors into enough areas to test eye sight? How do you deliver enough glasses — with the correct prescription — to enough areas? And how can we make it more affordable?

Eyejusters might have a solution. While not the most aesthetically-appealing pair of glasses on the market, Eyejusters are the first sight test and glasses in one. They allow real-time adjustments via little nobs, which not only allow each patient to tweak the lenses (from prescriptions of +4.5 to -5.0) to bring them utmost clarity, but the engineering also allows patients to self-adjust as their visual needs change, or even to share their glasses with those who may not have access to their own pair.

The lenses also include UV protection, and the frames come with a case and cleaning cloth and durable designs created to withstand everyday use. Most importantly, Eyejusters are low-cost and easy to dispense, making them an ideal solution for aid organizations looking to make a widespread impact.

Image via

Next up we have Unite For Sight, a social enterprise that partners with existing eye clinics to help prevent blindness by making eye care more accessible and affordable to regions of extreme poverty.

“Our partner eye clinics are seasoned social entrepreneurs who organize outreach teams that actively seek out patients in remote villages who would otherwise not have access to eye care,” the Unite For Sight website explains. “They collaborate with community leaders, governmental bodies and hospitals to bring high quality eye care to those living in extreme poverty.”

Finally, let’s have a look at NETRA, an optometric innovation from MIT’s Media Lab that can be attached to mobile devices to assess patient prescriptions.

NETRA, which stands for Near-Eye Tool for Refractive Assessment, could really revolutionize eye care around the world,” explains. “Because the device uses cellphones, an already ubiquitous tool in developing countries, NETRA’s accessibility is far-reaching.”

Image via

Have you heard of any other innovative solutions for people who are visually impaired? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below!