Improved Vision For Developing Countries

A Vision Ambassador (Image credit: Essilor)

From rural India to the favelas of Rio, recent advances in mobile health are helping to provide access to health care for communities in developing countries, and vision care is no exception:

With 2.5 billion living with the social and economic consequences of uncorrected poor vision, the potential to change lives and improve economies is huge.

Essilor, the global ophthalmic optics company headquartered in France, is pioneering uses for mobile technology to facilitate that change.

For instance, it was instrumental in establishing the Instituto Ver e Viver’s Vision Ambassador program in Brazil, which works in the poor communities of Rio to train individuals to step up and work as primary providers of vision care. Using a digital app on their phones to read prescriptions, Vision Ambassadors are able to propose and sell low-cost eyeglasses on-site to friends and neighbors who would otherwise never have been able to afford to correct their sight.

The Vision Ambassadors are also leveraging their phones to raise awareness of the vision screenings camps they organize. They use their own social media profiles, or, for guaranteed success, call upon local ‘digital marketers’ in their communities who for a very small sum will help advertise their work via extensive WhatsApp networks. The majority of Ambassadors are women, and the extra income they earn helps increase their financial independence while improving the health and prosperity of other residents in their community.

Another example is in India, where it is innovating ways to bridge the gap between patient and provider by simplifying financial management. Its Eye Mitra Optician (EMO) inclusive business initiative recruits and trains under-employed youth to bring affordable eye care to rural and semi-urban communities in India.

Although the initiative is only three years old, 1,800 EMOs have already been trained and have today served upwards of 400,000 customers in their communities. To help them to manage their finances, a mobile phone-based money transfer service is being piloted with 141 EMOs in Karnataka.

As well as increasing the transparency of payments, the service is also making the process quicker and easier, freeing up the EMOs to spend more time conducting vision screening in their communities. Next in line for digitization will be the ordering process itself, simplifying the task of stock selection to the click of a button.

Even if 70,000 individuals were screened each day, it would still take a century to reach all of the people affected by uncorrected poor vision.

So there’s much more that can and should be done.

That’s why Essilor has launched the See Change Challenge to uncover low-cost and scalable solutions that can be used by primary vision care providers to measure refractive errors in underserved areas. Essilor is appealing to innovators across all disciplines to lend their expertise to develop any solution that can meet the criteria outlined on the See Change Challenge website. Winning solutions will receive financial awards – €25,000 in cash for up to five winners of the first phase and an additional €100,000 for up to two final winners – as well as the chance to see their solution scaled to make a lasting and tangible impact in underprivileged communities around the world.

The See Change Challenge is open for applications until October 21, 2016. Read more about the Challenge and how to apply here.