A Pair of Glasses: A Luxury for Some

A pair of glasses: a luxury for some

Aloka Vision Programme

Hundreds of millions of people are in desperate need of eye care but are forced to get by without a pair of glasses because they live in a developing or emerging country with limited access to eye care. In order to provide eye care for all, more far-reaching and above all sustainable change is needed – in technology, logistics, the integration of the communities in these regions, as well as in people's attitudes to wearing glasses. This change can only be brought about through active and long-term commitment.

Consider this: You have a vision problem that makes it increasingly difficult for you to see things clearly when they're close up. But the nearest optician who offers an eye test is a day's journey away. Making the trip would mean sacrificing a full day's wages – and you don't know if it would even be worth it in the end. You've never tried on a pair of glasses – what if they don't even fit? In that case, you'd have to make the long journey twice. In a situation like this, most people would do the easiest thing – try to make do despite their failing vision.  

We wouldn't think twice about consulting an optician or ophthalmologist if we run into a problem with our eyes, with our eyesight. Nevertheless, more than two billion people have limited or no access to eye care. 90 percent of these people live in developing or emerging countries, most of them in rural areas. Poor vision often means children must leave school, can only work for ten years at the most, and jeopardize their quality of life, and education and career opportunities, as a result.  

Affordable glasses aren't the problem, but the eye test itself

A good, simple pair of glasses with customized lenses is in fact affordable in emerging countries – but that's not enough. After all, in areas where there is a lack of opticians or optometrists to perform eye tests and spectacle fittings, people are forced to live with their short- or long-sightedness. India alone needs more than 100,000 optometrists in order to provide basic eye care, particularly in rural areas. How can we offer these people reliable, sustainable, local and affordable eye care? ZEISS has launched a campaign in rural parts of India to find solutions to this problem: the Aloka Vision Programme.

We've conducted field studies and spoken to several hundred people who live in these areas.
Many people told us that they would have to travel to the closest city for a pair of glasses, i.e. give up their time, sacrifice a day's wages and also cough up 15 dollars for the trip in addition to the costs of the eye test, the frames and the lenses.

Nitin Sisodia, Founder of the Sohum Innovation Lab in Bangalore, one of Aloka's partners

This is far beyond their means. So they simply try to live with their vision problem.

Dr. Marc Wawerla, Chief Operating Officer of ZEISS Vision Care, says: “Aloka is our attempt to make eye care and eyeglasses accessible to the people in these regions – not as a favor, but as a sustainable, social undertaking that enables us to target the basic problem, i.e. the lack of local vision experts and local points of contact for getting eye tests and purchasing glasses."

For this reason, since its inception Aloka has been working with NGOs, foundations and development organizations that are established in the local area. ZEISS has teamed up with them to look for local entrepreneurs who are being trained and who can offer eye tests and glasses for the people in the local area.

“For ZEISS, the Aloka Vision Programme is just one example of how we are accepting responsibility today,“ says Wawerla. In 2015, the Aloka Vision Programme was launched in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. Today, it runs 25 eye care centres with partners and entrepreneurs in nine states. Up to 8,000 eye tests are performed each month, which corresponds to sales of more than 3,000 pairs of glasses.

Aloka also relies on digitalization to provide a better service and cut costs

An app makes it much easier to select frames and order glasses. In tricky cases, local partners can use the tablet to place a video call with the Aloka team and receive support in this way. “The orders are received by the Aloka team in Bangalore. A few days later, the glasses are ready and are dispatched via India's postal service. This works very well,“ says Sisodia.

“It's important that we see the people who purchase the glasses as customers – they can select their favorite frames and they also receive a warranty.“ After all, they're the ones paying for the glasses. “People in India live by the motto: if it costs nothing, it's worth nothing.“

Working with ZEISS and Aloka to provide more and more people in India with good vision is a very worthy cause

The sales benefit local entrepreneurs; one portion goes towards procuring the frames and lenses, shipping and project development. The challenges for Aloka are not the glasses themselves, but in fact logistics and marketing. Payment methods, frame selection, quality assurance, diversity of the local languages and dialects – all of this has to be factored in.

A pair of glasses is often not seen as a fashion accessory but as a stigma. People need a lot of convincing before they come to an eye test and can admit they have a vision problem. In order for them to agree to an eye test and a pair of glasses, Aloka has to become an integral part of the local community.

“When all is said and done, the customer will receive an affordable pair of glasses that is fitted to their eyes and that they like. All of this is made possible in their village thanks to the initiative of ZEISS and collaborations with local partners,“ says Aloka optometrist Nagaraj. “I'm very happy to work for Aloka. I think it's great to be able to do something good for my community. Working with ZEISS and Aloka to provide more and more people in India with good vision is a very worthy cause.“