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UK Group Brings Eyeglasses to Rwanda

UK Scientists Develop Cheap Adjustable Glasses
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Getting prescription glasses isn't a big deal for most Westerners, but in poor countries such as Rwanda it can require substantial time, effort and money. But now, thanks to a British scientist, up to one million Rwandans with poor vision will soon start testing new affordable glasses that they can adjust to sharpen their sight.

UK Scientists Bring Cheap Glasses to Rwanda
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Most people in developed countries do not have a problem getting prescription eyeglasses. They go to an ophthalmologist -- a doctor who treats problems and diseases of the eye, or an optometrist, a specialist who tests eyesight. The ophthalmologist or optometrist 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 has begun providing new affordable eyeglasses that wearers can adjust to improve their sight. The adjustable glasses are given to those over age eight who need them. Few school children use them.

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

"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 optometrist 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.

Editor's note: This article has been revised. We identified Graham Mackenzie as an opthamologist, but he is an optometrist. We said school children would benefit from the adjustable glasses but few school children receive them. Children under age 8 do not receive the glasses.

VOA’s George Putic reported this story. Jonathan Evans wrote it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

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

optometrist - n. a doctor whose job is to examine people's eyes to find out if they need eyeglasses or medical treatment.

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

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

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

wagen. money received for work done