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Technologies solving vision problems in developing countries

Sometimes it is easy for us to forget just how lucky we really are; we are able to see the wide world around us through a glass contraption.

Unfortunately, not everyone is as fortunate. In a recent study, the World Health Organisation discovered uncorrected refractive error is a major global problem, and is the most common cause of vision impairment worldwide.

For people in developing countries, eye care is either inaccessible or unaffordable. All is not lost however, as there are some dedicated charitable organisations on the case.


The Centre for Vision in the Developing World (CVDW) at Oxford University, estimates that 60% of young people in underprivileged countries don’t have access to any means of vision correction. In turn, this causes them severe economic, educational and public safety impediments.

Oxford University physicist Dr. Joshua Silver has plans to combat this, with his invention of self-adjusting glasses called Adspecs. Adspecs are designed to allow wearers to correct their vision on their own; a process known as self-refraction (it’s a lot less scary than it sounds).

This process allows the user to turn a wheel on a syringe attached to the arm of the frame, which pumps silicone oil into the lenses. The size of the lens can be changed, correcting the eye’s refractive error. The user can then tighten the screws on each arm and remove the syringes, transforming the adjustable specs into regular specs.

More than 40,000 pairs of Adspecs have been distributed to developing countries, and studies have shown that they produce excellent visual outcomes in teenagers.

Calculating refractive errors with a smartphone

Many people in developing countries have limited accessibility to trained Optical Experts. American charity Eyenetra aim to solve this with the help of self-diagnostics and smartphone technology. They have invented the inexpensive Near Eye Tool for Refractive Assessment, which is designed to calculate a patient’s refractive error.

This process is relatively simple, with the patient looking through the supplied lens to see green and red parallel lines. Using the keypad, they will move the lines until they overlap, After repeating the process a total of eight times for each eye, with the lines at varying angles, the errors are used to calculate the patient’s refractive error.

Solving rare vision problems with an app

Smart Vision Labs are a team dedicated to making their technology accessible to one billion people across the globe in need of eye care. Among the plethora of tools they have invented, the aberrometer is one that holds a lot of promise.

The aberrometer looks for distortions in how light reflects off the eye, which could indicate rarer problems such as double vision. It can estimate vision problems by taking a handful of pictures of a person’s eye and using software to analyse them. As this equipment is complex and advanced, it should normally cost thousands of pounds, rendering it inaccessible for the poverty stricken people that really need it.

Smart Vision Labs have solved this issue, by making a device that can be fixed onto an iPhone, with the aim to sell it as part of a low-cost kit for people in developing countries.

The device has already been given to a number of people in developing countries, one of them Elizabeth Groetken, an optometrist from Le Mars in Haiti; “People who used the device in the field were impressed with it. It was very helpful to have the technology available to us in Haiti. I can see the benefit of this tool in countries that do not have eye care readily available.”

Tackling a solvable issue that plagues millions of people around the world is a complex and daunting task, but many argue that it is achievable. Joshua Silver of the Centre for Vision in the Developing World, agrees that new technology is the way forward to solving the world’s sight issues: “Fitting people for glasses is important, but it is only half of the battle. What use is there to the prescription if you haven’t got a means of fulfilling it?”