The Wednesday Post (08/09/10)

DIY Optometry saves people’s sight

There are some things we may take for granted. Optometrists, for example. You might pass half a dozen on your way to work and not even notice they’re there. We take them to always be there when out sight starts getting a bit fuzzy or just need somewhere to buy exorbitantly-priced sunnies. Just in South Australia, the Yellow Pages gives 410 optometrists; this works out to be 1 optometrist per 4000 people.

However, in developing countries, there may be down to 1 optometrist per 1 million people. That’s like 3 for each of Australia’s states, and a couple for each territory; almost unimaginable.

DIY Optometry Mark I - Tools: Texta and alcohol. Results may vary. (Picture taken by Jane Howard)

According to the WHO, 87% of the population in developing countries has low vision. This works out to be 314 million who have difficulty seeing. 85% of this low vision is preventable. The majority of low vision is caused by refractive errors, which are usually correctable by glasses. If the errors aren’t corrected, then it can lead to blindness. Indeed it’s the second leading cause of blindness after cataracts. So, we’ve got this giant problem of vision impairment with a simple but inaccessable answer: prescription glasses. No-one is there to alter the lenses and prescribe all the right glasses.

Professor Josh Silver may have an answer. He has invented a clever new pair of glasses, where the lenses are just tough sacs filled with clear liquid. The strength of each lens can be adjusted with a syringe filled with water. People can simply adjust their own lens until they can see clearly. Mass-produced these can cost dollars per unit to produce, which is good news for those people in developing nations that are living under a dollar a day. He is hoping to deliver them to 1 billion people in need by 2020. The following is a talk in which Josh Silver describes his invention:

This is a fantastic invention and those that want to learn more or contribute to the cause should visit the website of Centre for Vision in the Developing World.

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Filed under Thomas' Corner

4 responses to “The Wednesday Post (08/09/10)

  1. They look dorky, but that’s some awesome science.

  2. Josh Silver is indeed awesome.


    I am wondering if the assertion: “refractive errors, which are usually correctable by glasses. If the errors aren’t corrected, then it can lead to blindness” is really true.

    And — aren’t other vision problems such as cataracts and infectious disease more challenging to vision in developing countries?

    That’s an honest question — I just don’t know.

    • Well accordng to the WHO:

      “Globally, the leading causes of blindness, in order of frequency, are:
      * cataract (a clouding of the lens of the eye that impedes the passage of light),
      * uncorrected refractive errors (near-sightedness, far-sightedness or astigmatism),
      * glaucoma (a group of diseases that result in damage of the optic nerve),
      * age-related macular degeneration (which involves the loss of a person’s central field of vision).”

      I don’t know the relative frequencies, but measles and rubella can cause blindness in children. Glaucoma can be caused by diabetes.

      In any case, to answer your question, yes, more people are affected by cataracts than uncorrected refractive errors. But with this invention, it’s much easier to treat the latter than the former.

      Also, uncorrected refractive errors has caused blindness in an estimated 8 million people. I would guess that it has something to do with stressing the muscles that control the curvature of the lens in the eye. But I’m not sure.


  3. Uwe

    I wonder whether this will spell the end of OPSM, Specsaver etc, I can just see it now for $150 dollars get 100 pair of glasses and 50 for your closest friends even if they are not in a health fund.
    I know watching way to much TV.
    Great invention and a simple solution, however, I bet he won’t be as much of a hero as the next guy to kick the winning goal for some football team.

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