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Correcting poor vision in Rwanda and other developing countries

Children often struggle at school without spectacles
Children often struggle at school without spectacles

Around the world an estimated 150 million adults and children struggle each day because of poor eyesight.

Many people suffer from defective vision through being long or short-sighted, though the condition can be easily corrected with glasses. However, families in developing nations such as Rwanda are often too poor to afford a pair of glasses. This can have a profound effect on everyday lives, rendering ordinary school or work activities extremely challenging and sometimes impossible.

Now a maths/physics teacher from Germany hopes to change this situation with his low-cost solution for making glasses, which has just won him a top industrial prize. Martin Aufmuth was inspired by reading ‘Out of Poverty’ by Paul Polak and set about finding a practical method for correcting eyesight in the developing world. Speaking to the Guardian, he explained “[The book] showed me the importance of innovations that sell for about $1 [60p].”

Glasses made in Rwanda

Devised over the last three years, the teacher’s invention allows glasses to be made for just $1. Spectacles are handmade on a specially designed bending and milling machine which needs no electrical power. The equipment fits into a small wooden box and can therefore be transported to the remotest locations.

The frames of the spectacles are lightweight and flexible, made from a rustproof steel wire. The lenses are made from a polycarbonate with a hardened surface, which can be varied in strength from -6.0 to +6.0 (in steps of 0.5 diopters). Polycarbonate is more resistant to damage than glass or resin and the adapted lenses can then be clicked into the spectacles frame by hand.

It only takes around two weeks to train local opticians how to make the new ‘OneDollarGlasses’ and they can then sell the spectacles for a small profit of between 2–7 dollars.

After a successful trial of the equipment in Uganda, training for the new optical equipment is now taking place in Rwanda, with other countries to follow. Where the start-up costs of the equipment and material (just over £2,000) are too high, Martin Aufmuth hopes donations will cover the cost.

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