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Five Reasons to be Excited About the New ATscale Product Narrative on Glasses

This month, we’re pleased to feature EYElliance’s Jay Corless on the inclusion of eyeglasses into the assistive technology agenda and disabilities movement. The VII is a founding member of EYElliance.

This blog is a complement to a recent podcast discussion on how learnings from the fight against Trachoma may be applied to the vision and broader disabilities conversation.  The podcast features:

  1. Alison End Fineberg, Director, ATscale, the Global Partnership for Assistive Technology

  2. Chapal Khasnabis, Essential Medicines and Health Products, WHO, Global Cooperation on Assistive Technology at the WHO

  3. Serge Resnikoff, Professor UNSW, Former Senior Policy Advisor at the WHO, President of the International Trachoma Control Initiative

  4. Liz Smith, Co-founder & CEO, EYElliance


In 2015, when EYElliance launched, the access to the eyeglasses ecosystem was tilted disproportionately towards INGO country-level work, with INGOs addressing less than 1% of the global need. The total annual investment was approximately $37 million to solve the problem, and access to eyeglasses was not even on the mind of the global development community. Our mandate was clear. Informed by the expertise of our members, we would grow the field. We would take a systems approach. We would continue to prioritize health systems and capacity development, but we would also engage with, influence, and bring new stakeholders into the broader access-to-eyeglasses ecosystem.

In five short years, we have led a targeted outreach and advocacy effort to share the impact opportunity associated with closing the vision gap with key decision-makers. Our efforts have mobilized UN agencies, bilateral institutions, the World Bank, and an education-focused multilateral organization to think about access to glasses differently. Since 2015, we have welcomed new resources, new actors, and problem solvers with global experience to the field. At no other moment has access to eyeglasses been so high on international development agendas – and we’re only getting started.

With last week’s release of ATscale’s Product Narrative: Eyeglasses, our small yet vibrant community is closer to connecting to the networks, funds, and resources it needs to deliver eyeglasses to the nearly 1 billion people living with correctable vision impairment. Here are five quick things you need to know about ATscale and their new Product Narrative. Do reach out if you’d like to learn more.

ATscale is a big deal.

ATscale is the Global Partnership for Assistive Technology. It launched in 2018 with the ambitious goal of catalyzing action to reach 500 million people with life-changing assistive technology (AT) by 2030. The Partnership’s vision is to enable a lifetime of potential where every person can access and afford the life-changing AT they need.

ATscale is moving forward in two areas in its initial work. They seek to grow political will, mobilize investment, drive policy reform, and strengthen systems to facilitate the uptake and scale of AT solutions that work. And they are looking to build and shape markets to overcome the supply and demand-side barriers for five priority AT products. The priority products are hearing aids, wheelchairs, eyeglasses, prostheses, and assistive digital devices & software.

Glasses are a priority product now.

In 2016, we shared our report Bridging the Visual Divide: Eyeglasses for Global Development with the Global Cooperation for Assistive Technologies (GATE), a division of the World Health Organization (WHO), and a truly collaborative partnership was born. As part of a larger e-learning platform being developed, EYElliance and GATE worked together to develop a digital training module that equips community level workers with the ability to conduct vision screenings and dispense reading glasses.

Throughout the collaboration EYElliance continued to share new evidence on the impact of correcting vision impairment with eyeglasses and the magnitude of the problem, which led to GATE’s inclusion of glasses into the 5 prioritized assistive technologies out of the list of 50 Priority Products.

Two years later, ATscale was launched at the inaugural Global Disability Summit in July 2018, placing access to assistive technologies, including glasses, squarely on the global development agenda. The founding members of ATscale are WHO, USAID, DFID, UNICEF, NORAD, the Kenyan Government, CHAI, the International Disability Alliance, the  China Disabled Persons’ Organization, the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Health in Agenda 2030, and the Global Disability Innovation Hub – all of which now have a new interest in accelerating access to eyeglasses.

When ATscale began to think about implementing its mission, EYElliance was by its side. Prior to their launch, we were actively involved in the development phase of their work and due diligence discussions on how to accelerate access to eyeglasses. We shared our global strategy for closing the gap in access to eyeglasses which is the synthesis of direct input from, and experience of, the eye care community of practice and our membership. Early on EYElliance and ATscale discovered a shared commitment to taking a market-shaping approach to solving problems. As a result, today access to glasses is a global development priority with a growing funding structure.

Product Narratives open up funding avenues.

The Product Narratives are mostly evidence-based investment theories on Assistive Technology products. They make a case for the products with the potential to reach scale. ATscale uses these reports to determine the direction of their activities and investments in line with their strategy. Now that the Eyeglasses Product Narrative is published, ATscale will begin to invest in shaping markets and overcoming supply and demand-side barriers for priority products strategically.

The narratives provide an overview of the current and pipeline product landscape, state of access and provision, unmet need, and stakeholders’ ongoing engagement. They summarize the key barriers to access and provide a detailed analysis of the viability of interventions. They also recommend responses to implement and potential metrics of success. The Product Narrative on Eyeglasses will influence funding flows to drive impact at the problem-solving level.

What happens next, what does this mean for the field?

What lies next is the exciting part. With this new momentum, we can accelerate and continue building the field and dream bigger about our impact. We anticipate going from strength to strength. We will continue to introduce new partners to the opportunity. The ecosystem now brings together new stakeholders from the public and private sectors, multilateral organizations, and donors.

Second, this new funding, alongside other sources we’ve worked to secure, like the new allocation of annual funding for low-cost eyeglasses from the United States Congress, also begins to provide an exit strategy for philanthropic donors. They have carried a majority of the funding burden until now. It allows them to continue providing the flexible funding necessary for early-stage work, while also unlocking government resources and crowding in further development finance and private capital for really ambitious country and systems-level work.

Why is this such big news?

Apart from the new funding opportunities and new players taking up their rightful space within the ecosystem, glasses finally have a home. For decades, eyeglasses, in terms of global development priorities, have been around for 700 years and were at the very bottom of “traditional” health priorities. Historically vertical funding philosophies dictated that health and medical interventions were prioritized over visual impairment correctable with eyeglasses due to epidemiological data and classification of the problem. It is easier to gather data on child mortality than the number of children who need glasses.

That was then, and now visual impairment is being recognized as a health problem AND a disability.  It is a cross-cutting issue area. That places it within two categories. The WHO World Report on Vision had three monumental outcomes: 1) Prioritization of vision impairment correctable with eyeglasses 2) Acknowledgement that without access to the solution, uncorrected vision impairment constitutes a disability and 3) the Report paves the way for the WHO to improve and update guidance and tools for Ministries of Health.

By also aligning with the disability’s movement we will have a far-reaching impact on our ability to close the gap in access to eyeglasses. This defining moment for our issue area is reminiscent of when Trachoma, a blinding eye condition, was bundled with other Neglected Tropical Disease (including Onchocerciasis) dramatically increasing resources allocated to solve the problem.

At EYElliance Jay Corless executes the organization’s cross-sector collaboration  work, providing the communications and relationship management needed to engage global development organizations in advancing EYElliance’s mission. Prior to his role at EYElliance Jay worked as the English spokesperson for UNESCO. From 1995 to 2002 he held technology, summit planning, and communication roles  with the organization. Jay also has experience in management and fundraising roles with the London Design Festival, Design Miami, and Design Philadelphia. Jay is a graduate of The University of Arts London where he earned an M.A in Creative  Industries Management.