UK Group Brings Eyeglasses to Rwanda

04 March, 2015

Most people in developed countries do not have a problem getting prescription eyeglasses. They go to an ophthalmologist -- a trained specialist who treats problems and diseases of the eye. The ophthalmologist can perform tests on the person's eyesight. The patient may receive a prescription from the doctor at the end of the exam. The prescription gives the patient permission to buy and use eyeglasses.

But in poor countries like Rwanda, it may take a lot more time, effort and money. Rwanda has only 14 ophthalmologists to serve the country's 11 million people.

But now, a British-based group is helping up to one million Rwandans with poor eyesight. The group is called Vision for a Nation. It will soon start testing new affordable eyeglasses that wearers can adjust to improve their sight.

James Chen set up Vision for a Nation. He says Rwanda is one nation where there is a great need for the glasses, especially among schoolchildren.

"We expect that perhaps a million people in Rwanda will need some form of vision correction and out of that probably 900,000 people will just need a simple reading glass and we would be able to supply that, or it would be our adjustable glasses."

James Chen is the founder of the eyewear manufacturer Adlens. The company produces two kinds of adjustable glasses. Mr. Chen says they are easy to use and have a wide range of magnification.

"You have two lenses as they move against each other in the part of the eye you can see out, the power changes with the two lenses moving against each other. The other technology we have is the fluid filled (lens) which is a chamber, on the one side you have a plastic kind of a sheet and as you put in the fluid which is a silicon oil, it changes the curvature of that and so that's what's changing the power."

Graham Mackenzie is an ophthalmologist who works for Adlens. He says the glasses are best for people whose eyesight changes from day to day.

"If your eyesight does fluctuate from day to day, or even minute to minute you can just readjust the lens power to meet your needs. The technology as it currently stands has a very high power range -- so high, in fact, that we can capture 90 per cent of all the sorts of refractive errors that are out in the world."

Thanks to the World Bank, Rwandans will pay only about $1.50 for the adjustable glasses. But that amount is still about three days' wages in their country.

Vision for a Nation has trained about 1,200 nurses to help people learn how to use the glasses. If all goes well in Rwanda, the group plans to provide a similar service in other countries.

I'm Jonathan Evans.

VOA's George Putic researched and prepared this story. Jonathan Evans wrote it for Learning English. The editor was George Grow.


Words in This Story

adjust v. to change something in a minor way so that it works better

affordable adj. something that can be paid for or done without problems or being seriously harmed

magnification n. the larger appearance of an object when it is seen through a microscope, telescope, etc.

ophthalmologistn. a doctor who studies and treats problems and diseases of the eye

wagen. money received for work done