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Donated glasses show lack of vision

Thursday 12th October 2006 - World Sight Day

Donated glasses show lack of vision

AUCKLAND, October 12 – Donating second hand spectacles to people in developing countries creates more problems than it solves, according to The Fred Hollows Foundation New Zealand.

A recent study in the Pacific island of Tuvalu showed that, out of a shipment of 102 second hand spectacles, only 13 were useful to people in Tuvalu.

"Unfortunately many spectacles that are donated to developing countries are never used," says Jacqui Ramke, a program manager for The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ. "The eye clinics that receive them often have limited room for storage and, as the glasses rarely match another person's exact visual needs, a large number are never dispensed and are eventually thrown away.

"Glasses are much the same as dentures or orthopaedic shoes, in that they are made specifically for the individual and are rarely exactly suitable for someone else," she says.

The research states that there is a long history of encouraging spectacle wearers in developed countries to donate their superseded or unwanted pairs of spectacles to collection projects that will ensure they reach the needy developing world. In the popular press, the research states, this aid has been presented as desirable, worthwhile, cost-effective, acceptable and, even, the only achievable remedy to the problem of uncorrected refractive error in developing countries.

A better option is to support people in developing countries to import new low cost spectacles and train technicians or nurses to test vision and dispense spectacles accurately. The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ has helped establish these small but effective spectacle programs around the Pacific. It works with eye clinics to purchase the spectacles for both long and short sight problems, which are sold as affordably as possible, but with a small profit that can even cover the cost of a technician's salary.

"This system has several advantages over handing out second hand spectacles at no charge, often without a proper eye examination. Not only do people end up with a correctly prescribed pair of spectacles, but a business is established, someone is employed and trained, and a system is put in place which means there is an ongoing supply of good glasses. The community stops being dependent on the goodwill and charity of people in a remote location, and they get some reliability into their supply of spectacles," says Ms Ramke.

"The system also allows for people who cannot afford to pay anything, by using the small profit to subsidise free pairs for them. We found in Timor-Leste that 50% of people could not even afford US$1 for a pair of spectacles. But the program can cover this need with the profit made on the spectacles that are sold."

The program has even trained technicians to make prescription spectacles. Just as in New Zealand, many people have a different vision problem in each eye and a prescription is required to put two different powered lenses into a pair of spectacles. The program in Timor-Leste makes about 75 pairs of spectacles like this each month.

"The requirements of people in developing countries are not all that different from our own here in New Zealand," says Ms Ramke. "They need spectacles that fit well, look appealing and are the correct strength for their specific vision problem. By supporting locally-based, affordable spectacle businesses, the local communities are ensured their needs are being met effectively and the economic benefit is felt locally rather than offshore."

The late Professor Fred Hollows believed that everyone deserved good eyesight and he strongly believed in putting long-term solutions in place that not only restored eyesight, but were of economic benefit to the community. Refractive error (and the need for spectacles to correct it) is the second leading cause of blindness in the Pacific region, after cataracts. The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ has programs in the Pacific to train local people to address these two major public health issues.

October 12 is World Sight Day – the international day for awareness of global blindness. There are 37 million blind people in the world and 75% of the blindness is avoidable. And yet still a person goes blind every five seconds.

The Fred Hollows Foundation seeks to eradicate avoidable blindness in developing countries. Since starting its work in 1992, over 750 eye surgeons have been trained by The Foundation to perform sight-restoring cataract surgery in Africa, Asia and the Pacific. As a result, more than 1,000,000 people have had their sight restored. It can cost as little as $25 to restore someone's sight. Contact The Fred Hollows Foundation (NZ) on 0800 227 229 to make a donation towards eliminating unnecessary blindness or visit


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