For twenty years globally VisionSpring has been creating access to affordable eyewear, everywhere. This month VisionSpring launched their newest collection of eyeglasses, their first-ever Made-in-India line. Their focus is on serving adults and children living on less than Rs. 300 per day, but they have a range of product offerings. VisionSpring has distributed more than 50 lakh eyeglasses throughout India.
In an interview with India CSR, Ella Gudwin, CEO of VisionSpring Global shares her views on recent development in eye care in India.
What kind of vision healthcare gap persists in Indian society?
The gap in India is similar to what we see in many places. More than 500 million people here lack the eyeglasses they need to see clearly, and most of these people are from low-income communities without access to affordable eye care. Only 20% of low-income people who need eyeglasses have them, compared to more than 80% of high-income populations globally.
Impaired vision compounds disparities that already exist in society. It affects productivity, decreasing one’s earning capacity and sometimes forcing people out of their job prematurely. It can take away an elder’s independence and contribute to depression. For children, it impedes their capacity to learn, socially engage, and lead healthy, active lives. On a national level, it obstructs economic growth.
Eyeglasses are a 700-year-old technology, and they can be manufactured and sold for less than Rs.400. Yet they have long been a luxury item reserved for the upper class. There is no reason why everyone who needs eyeglasses should not have them. For this reason, VisionSpring focuses on people earning less than Rs.300 per day — to bridge the gap so that everyone can experience the benefits and the wonder of clear vision.
How is VisionSpring creating an impact at the bottom of the pyramid?
With the support of our partners in corporate social responsibility offices, healthcare facilities, private foundations, and governments, we bring vision screenings and eyeglasses into the places where low-income adults and children live, work, and learn.
For most of these people, our screenings are their first-ever vision check-ups, and the eyeglasses they receive from us are their first pair. We see ourselves in service to the people who wear our eyeglasses, so we prioritize offering a variety of stylish frames that are also durable and affordable. Every individual deserves the dignity of choice, especially for something like eyeglasses that are worn on our faces every day and become a part of our identity.
What kind of initiatives have been taken for the betterment of people?
VisionSpring increases access to eyeglasses primarily through three key programs: See to Earn, See to Learn, and See to be Safe.
Our See to Earn program brings vision screenings and eyeglasses to working-age adults while they are at work. We did a Randomized Control Study in Assam that showed that when tea pickers got glasses, their productivity increased by 22% on average. For women over the age of 50, their productivity increased by 32% on average. We have found similar results among workers in garment factories. Clear sight can translate to a significant increase in income, and it can also extend an individual’s working years.
Our See to Learn initiative focuses on children in need of eyeglasses by bringing vision camps to schools. University of California doctors have found that 80% of classroom learning occurs visually, meaning that children with uncorrected blurry vision experience significant disadvantages in school and their career prospects.
Our See to be Safe program brings vision screenings and eyeglasses to drivers to make India’s roads safer. Although India has only 1% of the world’s vehicles, according to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, it accounts for 13% of global fatalities from road accidents – approximately 400 every day. By hosting screenings at transport hubs, we make it easy for drivers and allied transport workers to get the glasses they need to stay safe on the roads.
What kind of inroads has VisionSpring made in India and what are the targets?
Since 2005, VisionSpring has distributed more than 50 lakh eyeglasses throughout India. This month we launched our newest collection of eyeglasses, our first-ever Made-in-India range. Being able to manufacture our eyeglasses domestically allows us to ensure both quality and availability – a major concern with recent global supply chain issues.
Our goal is a Clear Vision India. Nationally, 500 million people suffer from vision impairment that can be fixed with a pair of glasses. We know we can solve this problem with the help of our growing network of partners. We’ve built strong relationships with more than 500 CSRs, eye hospitals, NGOs, and government authorities.
What is the impact of eyeglasses on road safety?
As mentioned above, India has a disproportionate amount of road accidents. And as much as 59% of road accidents are linked to poor vision. According to our program data, one in every four drivers who visit our See to be Safe vision camps fails the visual acuity requirement for their driver’s license. In other words, while they are driving, they are unable to see road signs and hazards just 20-30 meters away.
Vision problems threaten the lives of the drivers as well as the safety of others on the road. While there is a provision in the regulations that drivers must have a sight test for their license, this is not enforced. And when there is an accident there is not a place on the crash record to note whether or not the driver should be wearing eyeglasses. In addition, some drivers are worried that if they wear glasses, they will reveal a vision impairment resulting in them being dismissed from work.
Making sight tests convenient by bringing them to transportation hubs, ports, break-bulk centers, and rest areas have been key to the success of our See to be Safe program. By focusing on the link between vision and road safety, VisionSpring is making the road safer for everyone.
What is the impact of corrective eyeglasses on India’s skilled workers (such as artisans and micro-entrepreneurs)?
Correcting the vision of artisans, tradespeople, micro-entrepreneurs, and other skilled workers have been one of VisionSpring’s organizational priorities since our founding. Our See to Earn program addresses both near vision and far vision impairment, but because the condition of presbyopia (blurry near vision) collides with the age when people are at the peak of their artistry and the mastery of their craft, a simple pair of reading glasses can extend the productivity and increase the earning capacity for much of India’s 70 million artisans and micro-entrepreneurs.
Who do you hope will hear your message about the importance of a clear vision?
Eyeglasses are a highly cost-effective tool that has an instant impact on people’s safety, their livelihood, and the opportunities available to them. These positive impacts ripple out through families and communities as well as through the entire country.
It is the problem hiding in plain sight, and we can all play a role in solving it. Glasses are missing from the faces of our teachers, students, drivers, factory workers, farmers, and civil servants. Ask yourself who in your life is missing glasses? What would their future be like with them? Will you help create a clear vision for India?
What are your goals and hopes for the future of VisionSpring’s work?
Nearly 100 crore people globally don’t have the glasses they need to see clearly, and most of these people are from low-income communities. For many, a vision screening requires several hours of travel to the nearest hospital and waiting in endless queues. But in many countries, reading glasses are readily available at pharmacies, train stations, and stationery shops. In India too, reading glasses need to be taken out of medical environments and into communities.
Our goal is to solve the issue of uncorrected blurry vision in a generation to create not only a Clear Vision India but a Clear Vision World. We can’t do it alone. Only through collective action across sectors can we together achieve a clear vision for all.
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