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New tech to help 2.5b people's vision

AAP logoAAP 1/10/2016 By Kameron Virk

Philanthropist James Chen believes the technology exists to get glasses to everyone in the world who needs them within 20 years, and is already taking steps towards it through a non-government organisation he founded.

Vision For A Nation has provided around 90,000 people in Rwanda with glasses that have adjustable lenses.

Now through his Clearly campaign he hopes to pool the knowledge of entrepreneurs, academics and experts to work out the "other pieces of the puzzle" that involve using apps to get sight tests for people in developing nations.

"Twelve years ago I ran across a physics professor from Oxford who invented this technology around adjustable powered lenses. I could immediately see it could be a game-changer in the developing world," Chen said.

Chen was told by the World Bank, NGOs and the eye community that because of complications around screening, the solution he imagined would not be possible.

"Today they figure about 2.5 billion people have poor vision, of which 80-90 per cent just need a pair of glasses. But for those people to get glasses they really should be screened, in case their vision correction has something to do with a more serious eye problem.

His NGO identified a system that would work in Rwanda and is in the process of figuring out how to make it work for other nations.

"We tested a model where we do three-day training, partnered with the ministry of health in Rwanda, and today we've trained over 2000 nurses around the country. Rwanda is the first country in the developing world, in history, to have comprehensive eye services.

A TED talk showed him the even bigger role technology could play in eye care after coming across the work of Andrew Bastawrous, an Egyptian-English ophthalmologist who developed Peek - an app that carries out eye tests through smartphones. Others around the world have had the same idea.

The Clearly campaign's role is to "incubate" and "support whichever great organisations can help us get to that goal" of a world where everyone who needs glasses has them within 20 years.

Chen added: "We're saying that by the year 2035 when Elon Musk says he's going to get the first man on to Mars, we want everyone on Earth to see that."

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