A Simple, Global Investment

A study published in October in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization revealed a startling, and inspiring, revelation: while eliminating the worldwide shortage of eyeglasses could cost up to $28 billion over 5 years, doing so could result in more than $200 billion to the global economy.

Using data from the International Data Base, “a computerized database established by the United States Census Bureau that contains statistical tables of demographic data for 228 countries and areas of the world,” the study’s authors, a mix of scientists from Australia’s Brien Holden Vision Institute in Sydney and the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, estimated that 703 million people worldwide have vision impairment due to uncorrected refractive error (URE) severe enough to impair their work. With the ready-made to custom-made glasses is assumed to be 20 to 80 percent, the cost “would cover the cost of training 65,000 optometrists and equipping clinics with the proper equipment to prescribe eyeglasses,” as The New York Times reported. The production costs towards mass-produced eyeglasses is merely a fraction of the cost, which can be mass-produced for roughly $2 a pair, according to a 2005 MIT report.

Eyeglasses may seem like a small investment, but, according to study co-author Kevin Frick, “lots of skilled crafts become very difficult after age 40 or 45. You don’t want to be swinging a hammer if you can’t see the nail.”

In terms of substantial return, the study illustrates that an investment like this would benefit in regions of the Americas, Europe, and the western Pacific the most, moderately poor countries compared to very poor regions in Africa. The study also mentions that if this movement was directed towards schoolchildren, the return would be even greater.

While the study modestly sums up its report, “The scale of this return on investment means that correcting vision impairment due to URE provides a good opportunity for global development,” with results like this, it would be a vital and substantial advancement to our global economy.