Frankfurt (Germany), May 2018. This week we are happy to share some thoughts on an interesting article by Andrew Jacobs, published May 5th, in the New York Times’ Health Section: “A Simple Way to Improve a Billion Lives: Glasses.” The article presents a look at the global impact of visual impairment with examples from India.
The article makes several salient points, the first among which is that visual impairment, while considered not as urgent as other world health problems, costs an estimated in $200 Billion annually in lost productivity globally. Globally, visual impairments disproportionately affect poor and rurally located people, who even when they have access to eye care, often cannot afford it. With an estimated Billion people globally with treatable visual impairments, the potential impact of expanding eye care access is enormous.
Treating visual impairments early can have profound effects on not only, education and educational access, but occupational choices and self-esteem. Visual impairments particularly affect manual and artisanal labor, preventing farmers from being able to recognize ripe crops for harvests or obscuring an artist’s view of their work. For many adults, visual problems can develop later in life, affecting general quality of life and or removing workers from operating vehicles or heavy machinery. Particularly in the global south, many drivers do not know they have visual deficiencies. In Africa for instance, traffic fatalities are more than three times as likely than in Europe according to the WHO. Particularly in the digital age, visual impairments will limit the benefits promoted by closing the digital divide. Thus, with the downstream benefits of improved access to education and improved work opportunities and others, it is clear that expanding access to eye care and glasses maybe one of the simplest and low-cost ways to improve more than a Billion live globally.
Wazi Vision, one of GreenTec’s portfolio companies based in Uganda, is tackling exactly this problem. Founded by Ms. Brenda Katwesigye, the company is developing a virtual reality-based solution that makes comprehensive vision screening portable, low-cost, and efficient. Requiring little more than the electricity to power a headset and a laptop, the new solution in development will expand eye care options for thousands of Ugandans and Africans.
The idea for the solution came from Brenda’s own experiences with the difficulty of finding affordable eyecare in Uganda. Brenda’s solution pairs affordable and portable eyecare screening with affordable glasses produced from recycled materials, providing a holistic solution to affordable eye care. Traditional eyecare costs more than $150 US including glasses in Uganda, prices that are unaffordable for most of the population. Wazi can deliver screening and high-quality glasses in the much more affordable $20-30 range.
GreenTec Chief Technology Company Builder Moses Acquah worked closely with Brenda to fully understand the app’s technical specifications and helped devise a development and manufacturing strategy to deliver the company’s new solution. Working closely with European technology partners, the app and its delivery platform are being developed to maximize potential benefits to all stakeholders.. The new solution leverages Virtual Reality in administering a range of eye care screenings and uses analytics to generate prescriptions and automated order processing. GreenTec also worked closely to develop the company’s business plan, focusing on delivering the eyecare solution to schools, clinics, and hospitals. Thus, through our model, we are helping Brenda and Wazi Vision contribute to SDG 3 Good Health and Well Being. To date, Wazi Vision has administered more than 4,000 eye tests and delivered more than 700 pairs of glasses. Wazi will begin operations with its new virtual reality system shortly in Uganda and expects to perform more than 20,000 tests by the end of the year. It’s not one billion, but it is a start.