Photo courtsey of Brien Holden Vision Institute

More than 625 million people around the world are blind or vision-impaired simply because they don’t have access to adequate eye care and glasses.    

Revo and Bono are partnering to prevent vision impairment and blindness in more than 5 million people by 2020. The Buy Vision, Give Sight initiative will drive $10 million to the fight to improve access to eye screening, prescription glasses and eye health care in under-resourced communities around the world.

When a consumer purchases Revo sunglasses, $10 from the sale of every pair, up to a total of $10 million, will be donated by Revo to the Buy Vision, Give Sight campaign. To execute the initiative, Revo and Bono are working with the non-profit Brien Holden Vision Institute. The funds donated by Revo to the Brien Holden Vision Institute will help pay for basic eye health services, including eye tests and prescription glasses, and build stronger eye health services in target communities for the longer term by training local people to provide eye care and detect eye diseases in their communities.

Revo’s contribution to Brien Holden will support their “Our Children’s Vision” campaign, whose aim is to prevent impaired vision and preventable blindness in more than 50 million children by 2020. Buy Vision, Give Sight funds will also support research.

Photo courtsey of BRIEN HOLDEN VISION INSTITUTE

We caught up with Kovin Naidoo, interim CEO for the Brien Holden Vision Institute, to get more details about why eye care is so vital in the developing world.

Revo: There has been a lot of news recently about the United Nations’ new Sustainable Development Goals. How does eye care fit into the UN’s vision for the future?

Kovin: We see vision as a crucial component to achieving many of the goals. For example, good health (goal #3) is at the core of most vision programs and directly impacts education and employment opportunities, which are factors in reducing poverty (goal #1) and contributing to economic growth (goal #8). We know that people who have uncorrected vision impairment are at risk of losing education (goal #4) and employment prospects (goal #8). Healthy vision is a critical part of daily life and future potential. The UN goals are an opportunity to integrate eye care into the framework for development, and contribute to long-lasting change.

Revo: How is the experience of an individual with a vision impairment different in the developing world than it would be for the people who are likely reading this story?

Kovin: Many of the people reading this story will be doing so with the assistance of a simple piece of technology – glasses. If they aren’t, they certainly know someone who relies on glasses to read, drive, recognize familiar faces, text, and the list could go on and on. Imagine for a moment what their lives would be like if they didn’t have vision correction available to them. For whatever reason, they couldn’t afford it, couldn’t travel the distance required to obtain care or, like we have found in many places, didn’t even know that correction was an option.

In many locations in the developing world, uncorrected vision problems are having devastating consequences on lives. Children are losing education opportunities, and adults are unable to gain, or keep, employment. People with uncorrected vision problems in these locations are at a disadvantage simply because there are not enough eye care professionals, or facilities available to treat them.

I am reminded of a woman in rural Tanzania who smiled from ear to ear after being given a simple pair of reading glasses. When we asked her why she was so happy, she replied, “Now I can go to church and read my bible.” It is very much a quality of life issue, irrespective of the different situations we may find ourselves in.

Revo: What do people not understand about the importance of the vision care in the developing world?

Kovin: It is understandable that when access to eye care is not an issue, we start to take it for granted. However, there is a greater recognition of the value of the work conducted by Brien Holden Vision Institute because of the rise in conditions like myopia (near-sighted). Myopia is becoming a major challenge in the developed world.

Children who are spending long hours on tablets, mobile phones and computer games are at risk of developing myopia and potentially high myopia. High myopia is particularly worrying because it increases the risk of developing eye diseases that are potentially blinding later in life.

I think the take away point is that all people, regardless of where they live in the world, are exposed to vision problems, but the real issue is access. For those of us living in the developed world, we are lucky to have eye care professionals readily available; for the 625 million people in the developing world, they are not so lucky. In many locations in which we work, optometry isn’t even a profession.

We believe that sight is a fundamental right for all people, regardless of economic status, gender or geographical location. Simply put, our programs are about ensuring accessible and affordable eye care to people.

Revo: What makes the partnership between Brien Holden Vision Institute and Revo unique?

Kovin: The relationship between Brien Holden Vision Institute and Revo is unique because it has brought together the private, not-for-profit and government sectors to ensure that access to eye care is created and sustainable in the developing world. Revo and Bono understand the need to support sustainable projects that empower communities and governments to take the leadership in meeting eye care needs. Their understanding locates this partnership within a true development framework.

Revo: Bono brings more than just celebrity to this partnership. Talk about what it’s like working with him.

Kovin: Bono is an inspirational figure. Commendably, he has used his influence as a platform for making a measureable impact on health and poverty interventions. Our team at the Brien Holden Vision Institute is incredibly excited to work with such a respected public figure. He has a lot of credibility in the development sector. He is passionate, knowledgeable and committed to the cause. Because of those qualities, we have a real affinity with him. His actions constantly convince us that for him, this is about real passion and belief in supporting children and adults to get access to eye care.

Revo: Brien Holden Vision Institute talks a lot about increasing rates of myopia in all parts of the world. What is causing this, and what can we do?

Kovin: There are a number of factors at play, one in particular is environment. We are discovering that children who spend more time outdoors, away from tablets and mobile phones, are much less likely to be diagnosed with myopia.

Therefore, parents should encourage their kids to spend two hours of each day outdoors. They should also limit the time their children spend on electronic devices, and other activities that require them to focus close up for long periods. It is important that teachers and parents have children screened for vision problems at regular intervals, and be vigilant in acting on treatment.

Myopia is not curable or reversible, but there are promising interventions using optical and behavioral approaches that can help slow the progression and prevent people from becoming highly myopic.

Revo: Why is World Sight Day so important? 

Kovin: World Sight Day is important because it is an opportunity to raise the public’s awareness that blindness and vision impairment are major public health issues. For example, we now know that up to 1 billion people could be at risk of blindness by the middle of the century if emerging myopia trends are ignored.

World Sight Day serves as a launch pad for a greater commitment towards eliminating avoidable blindness. We believe that the partnership between Revo, Bono and the Brien Holden Vision Institute celebrates that commitment.

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Kovin headshot

Professor Kovin Naidoo, OD MPH PhD FAAO

Professor Naidoo is an academic, former anti-apartheid activist and political prisoner, optometrist and an internationally celebrated public health leader. His professional life has been dedicated to delivering eye care to people in need.

Professor Naidoo has served as the head of Optometry at University of KwaZulu-Natal, Africa Director of the Brien Holden Vision Institute, Public Health Division (formerly Inetrnational Centre for Eyecare Education) and subsequently Global Programs Director. He is also the CEO of the African Vision Research Institute. He is an Associate Professor of Optometry at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
 
Professor Naidoo is Interim CEO and responsible for the Brien Holden Vision Institute, Public Health Division global programs.