Helping the world see

Top portion of the Snellen Eyechart

KAI RYSSDAL: If you can't see it gets tougher to make a living. Eyecare is a health issue that has global economic consequences. Mostly in developing countries. The World Health Organization released its first comprehensive survey on the subject today. And Rachel Dornhelm reports...the hundreds of millions of people affected could be helped with some low cost solutions.


RACHEL DORNHELM: The statistics should raise some eyebrows: 153 million people around the world live with poor vision that could be corrected with glasses. Ninety percent of them live in developing countries. Those with bad vision have problems working and going to school.
IVO KOCUR: It's not only the actual economic impact on their life but also on the whole family, because family members are directly involved in helping them, which means for the whole family, real burden.

That's the World Health Organization's Ivo Kocur. Kocur says another 161 million have diseases like cataracts that cause avoidable blindness. Kocur says in both cases there are some very-low-cost solutions.

KOCUR: We know that in many countries we can provide cataract surgical services, say, from $30 to $50 per eye. For glasses, of course, it's substantially less.

And then there's Vitamin A supplementation, which targets children's vision. That runs a few cents a capsule. Ted Greiner with the global health nonprofit PATH says the World Bank has classified it as one of the most cost-effective health treatments. Period.

TED GREINER: Because it's a fat soluble vitamin, it's stored in the body and it will protect the child's eyes from vitamin A deficiency for about four months after you give the capsule. And they usually give it twice a year.

Greiner says because providing vitamins is not a sustainable solution, vitamin A is now being added as a supplement to food aid, like cooking oil, sugar and rice.

I'm Rachel Dornhelm for Marketplace.

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