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Centre for Vision in the Developing World

According to the Centre for Vision in the Developing world, up to two billion people around the world lack proper eyewear. Not being able to see properly means millions of children can’t read the blackboard at school, stunting their education. For adults, it means being unable to work, drive safely (if at all), or even read and write. The World Health Organization predicts that vision issues will rise into the top ten global health issues affecting productivity and opportunities by 2030, passing HIV/AIDS in its global burden.

What is less discussed or understood is that the problem is not just the availability of glasses. The real issue is lack of access to eye care professionals who can measure prescriptions and fit glasses accordingly. For example, in parts of Africa there may be only one optometrist for every million people.

Dr. Joshua Silver’s solution is ingenious eyeglasses that cost about $1 USD and can be self-adjusted by the wearer to the correct prescription. He is a physicist, inventor and founder of the Centre for Vision in the Developing World, an organization that seeks to bring corrective eyewear to the Bottom Billion.

Silver’s glasses contain tough plastic lenses which house two clear circular sacs filled with fluid, each of which is connected to a small syringe to add or reduce the amount of fluid in the sacs. This changes the power of the lenses. When the wearer is happy with the strength of the lenses, the membranes are sealed by twisting a small screw and the syringes are removed. The solution is scalable and effective; over 100,000 people in thirty countries now wear adaptive spectacles.

This leaves the user with an inexpensive (less than $1 USD) solution to their vision problem. Moreover, because the glasses are inexpensive and easily replaced, the pair can be passed on to someone else if the recipient’s vision deteriorates or alters. A new pair can be obtained just as easily.

Starting in the mid 1980’s. Dr. Silver worked with development agencies within the British Government on developing a low-cost solution. He eventually proposed, invented and promoted a form of self-correcting adaptive eyewear – glasses that could be customized in the field, without the assistance of optometrists or expensive technology.

Since his invention, Dr. Silver has worked to develop an infrastructure to market and distribute the glasses through the Centre’s activities. It works on education, advocacy, and training to make sure that the glasses can find their way to communities in need.

We had a chance to speak more with Dr. Silver and learn more about both the glasses and their ecosystem on our podcast, Social Design Insights. Listen to Episode 52 | A Vision for the Future here.