Every once in a while, a solution to a global problem is right under your noseby Jack Straw / January 17, 2018 / Leave a comment
In politics, it is incredibly rare to come across a simple, genuinely affordable, solution to a systemic problem. Particularly one that could benefit nearly a third of the world’s population.
It is rarer still to find that this solution has the power to expand access to education across the globe, to increase productivity in developing countries and to help redress gender inequality.
It is frankly unheard of for this solution to also have the potential to unlock an estimated $3 trillion for the global economy.
But it turns out that millions of people in the UK have had this solution on the ends of their noses for centuries: a pair of glasses.
A global oversight
This week, a group of political heavyweights have put aside party differences to come together to highlight what is the world’s largest unaddressed disability.
Figures from Tim Farron to Emily Thornberry, from Caroline Lucas to Dame Caroline Spelman, have put on a pair of glasses—in my case, a silly pair shaped like a cat’s face—to draw attention to the simplicity of the solution.
“Roughly 2.5 billion people in the world today currently suffer from poor vision”
The Clearly campaign, which has organised the film, estimates that roughly 2.5 billion people in the world today currently suffer from poor vision, but have no access to correction or treatment.
Poor vision is not a life-threatening condition, and in contrast to the pressing threat of diseases like malaria or the global HIV Aids pandemic, it has failed historically to secure significant development funding or to make the cut for global health targets.
And yet, current rates of poor vision—by which we mean simple refractive errors like myopia (short sightedness)—are a crippling impediment to economic development in emerging economies.
The research institution, Access Economics, has put the global cost of poor vision at $3 trillion a year—mapping the far-reaching impact of uncorrected poor vision on healthcare provision, as well as the indirect costs of road and domestic accidents, informal family care and lost workplace productivity.
Looking in to the past
But there are also impacts that are much harder to quantify.
I still remember struggling to master sports at school like football where I couldn’t wear my glasses. I know first-hand how much of a life-line my glasses and contact lenses were to me, and I would have lost my sight altogether had I not had a cataract operation five years ago.
I simply cannot imagine how I would have completed my education, or done my job without access to the tools and treatments for poor sight that we take for granted in this country.
Shockingly, this is the predicament for literally billions of people around the world.
Putting the answer in perspective
It’s estimated that nine in ten people with poor vision just need a simple pair of glasses—which can cost as little as $1 per pair to produce.
Breakthroughs in technology are drastically defeating the cost of diagnosis too, removing the need for costly supply chains of equipment and expensive, time-intensive medical training.
For example, the technology start-up PEEK has developed hardware that can transform a smartphone into an ophthalmic tool, allowing it to take high-resolution retinal images and deliver comprehensive sight tests.
Progress is being made around the world as well.
In just five years, the NGO, Vision for a Nation, worked with the Rwandan government to deliver universal eye care by training nurses to carry out sight tests, taking clinics out to rural areas, and providing affordable glasses for anyone who needed them.
Right under our noses
And yet, despite the pervasive nature of the problem and the solution within our grasp, this issue flies under the radar of many governments, development agencies and funding bodies with the power to solve it.
This year, Clearly, along with five leading eye health organisations—The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, Sightsavers, The Fred Hollows Foundation, Peek Vision and the International Coalition for Trachoma Control—are calling on the international community to address this issue at the Commonwealth Summit in London in April by committing to deliver “vision for everyone.”
I hope our film will help spread the word. In a time when many of the global problems we face seem insurmountable, global leaders ought to be tripping over themselves to tackle an issue that is so universal and eminently solvable.
It’s time for the whole world to see clearly.