Essilor Supports Efforts to Address Children’s Vision
New York – April 19, 2016 – “Uncorrected refractive error is probably the biggest disability in the
world,” Jayanth Bhuvaraghan said. “It’s not an expensive problem to address. You just need a pair of glasses.”
Bhuvaraghan, Essilor’s chief corporate mission officer, speaking at a company-sponsored press event held here during Vision Expo East, said the global economic impact of uncorrected refractive error is $272 billion per year.
“People who have uncorrected refractive error don’t know they have a problem, and there’s no one to tell them,” he said. “The second biggest problem is access.”
Bhuvaraghan continued: “At Essilor we are trying to create awareness and access. We can solve this problem in 20 or 25 years”
Bhuvaraghan described a program that Essilor established in India called EyeMitra, which means “friend of the eyes” in Hindi. Through the program, young individuals are trained in a 2-month course to perform refractions and edge lenses. These trained individuals receive assistance in setting up small practices in their villages.
“This creates employment, creates a point of sale, a primary eye care center and access to products,” Bhuvaraghan said.
Similar programs are being deployed in five countries.
“We set aside $20 million dollars to create a fund to drive projects for sustainable vision care, supporting 35 projects in 12 countries with an expected reach of nearly 7 million people,” he said.
Essilor has partnered with the Brien Holden Vision Institute (BHVI) on establishing a new program called Our Children’s Vision, which was launched just prior to Vision Expo East. Kovin Naidoo, OD, MPH, PhD, FAAO, BHVI CEO and campaign director for Our Children’s Vision also spoke at the Essilor press event.
“By the year 2050, 50% of the world’s population will be myopic,” he said. “One billion will have high myopia, which is -5 D and above, and will be at risk of visual impairment and blindness. We are heading into one of the biggest public health crises in the history of society.
“This affects the developed world as much or more than the developing world,” he continued. “We find nonprofit organizations tripping over each other trying to serve the poor. Companies see an
opportunity, but engage superficially. We need to help society and do it in a sustainable way.”
Despite continual efforts in underdeveloped areas of the world, “we have not been able to make a significant impact,” Naidoo said. “In fact, the numbers are getting worse. We need to make our
programs more accessible to the world.”
The establishment of Our Children’s Vision allows “the brand to be our children instead of our individual organizations,” he said, with a goal of reaching 50 million children by 2020.
“It’s not about the service delivery approach, it’s about ensuring we use that as a catalyst to support our advocacy efforts, to mobilize more resources in society and ultimately get government and policymakers to take responsibility for our children,” Naidoo said. “When policy says children need to get eye exams, then the programs will be funded.”
Naidoo said 34 organizations have already gotten involved, with some coming from outside eye care.
Maureen Cavanagh, president of Essilor’s Vision Impact Institute, said at the press event that the institute has more than 150 studies focused on the impact of uncorrected refractive error.
“We have other organizations reaching out to us as a source for credible research,” she said.
A synthesis of all of this research will be published on the institute’s website in the next 3 months, Cavanagh said. Next the group will tackle drivers and the elderly.
“Every child should enter school with a note from their doctor saying they got their eyes examined,” Cavanagh said. “Only three states require mandatory eye exams before entering school. We want to approach other cities to convince them that children have a right to see. We want to be able to use our data and work with our partners to change other cities and other states to mandate necessary eye exams before school through a program called Kids See Success.”
Kim Schuy, president of the Essilor Vision Foundation, said 12 million children need vision correction in the U.S. school systems and do not have it.
“That’s one in four students with a problem significant enough to affect learning, and people assume Medicaid will take care of it,” she said.
The Essilor Vision Foundation’s signature program is Kids Vision for Life.
“Our goal is to find a way to solve that vision need in America’s classrooms,” Schuy said, “whether through access or awareness or government policy.”
The foundation is involved with the Special Olympics, provides vision service on site in America’s Title 1 schools, staffs mobile vans and provides care at health clinics and colleges of optometry. In 2014 the group provided eye wear to 45,759 people; in 2015 it provided eye wear to 121,562, Schuy said. “The key message for the Essilor Vision Foundation, similar to what Kovin said, is partnership – meeting with nonprofits and important industry players who also want to join this mission.” – by Nancy Hemphill, ELS, FAAO
Disclosures: Bhuvaraghan is employed by Essilor. Naidoo is employed by the BHVI. Cavanagh is employed by the Vision Impact Institute. Schuy is employed by the Essilor Vision Foundation.