Glasses improve income and vision, study shows

If you're 50 or older and reading this article, chances are you wear a pair of inexpensive reading glasses to correct presbyopia, or hyperopia, the age-related decline in vision that makes it progressively harder to read small and tiny print . objects.

Eventually, everyone gets the condition.

But for nearly a billion people in developing countries, reading glasses are a luxury that many cannot afford. According to the World Health Organization, lack of access to corrective glasses inhibits learning among young students, increases the likelihood of road accidents and forces millions of middle-aged workers and farmers to leave the workforce too early.

Not surprisingly, uncorrected presbyopia makes it more difficult for breadwinners to support their families. That's the conclusion of a new study that found that Bangladeshi garment workers, artisans and tailors who were provided free reading glasses saw a 33% increase in income compared to those who were not provided with them. eyeglasses.

The study, published Wednesday in the journal PLOS One, involved more than 800 adults in rural Bangladesh, many of whom work in jobs that require intense attention to detail. Half of the participants – a mix of tea pickers, weavers and seamstresses aged between 35 and 65 – were randomly chosen to receive a free pair of reading glasses. The others were not given glasses.

The researchers followed up eight months later and found that the group with glasses had seen a significant increase in income, receiving an average monthly income of $47.10, compared to $35.30 for participants who did not have the glasses.

The study subjects were evenly split between males and females, and just over a third were literate.

Dr Nathan Congdon, lead author of the study and an ophthalmologist at Queen's University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, said the findings add to a growing body of evidence quantifying the economic impact of uncorrected vision in parts of the world where it costs around $1.50. buying a pair of so-called players is out of reach for many.

“All of us would be happy with a 33% increase in income,” said Dr. Congdon, who specializes in low-cost models of providing eye care. “But what makes the results particularly exciting is the potential to convince governments that vision care interventions are as inexpensive, cost-effective and life-changing as anything else we can offer in healthcare.” .

Dr. David S. Friedman, a professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School who was not involved in the study, said he was impressed by the findings and hoped future studies would confirm the findings. “These economic impacts are large, real and could have a substantial impact on people's lives,” he said.

Eye care has long been the neglected stepchild of public health in developing countries; infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS tend to benefit from more substantial government and philanthropic support. But vision problems are a serious global problem, with a projected cost of more than $400 billion in lost productivity, according to the WHO.

Experts say spending on eye care can have a major impact on communities, both in terms of increasing economic output and improving quality of life. Compared to other, more intractable health problems, addressing presbyopia is quite inexpensive. Glasses can often be produced for less than $2 a pair, and fitting is usually done by community workers who can be trained in a single day.

Misha Mahjabeen, Bangladesh country director for VisionSpring, a nonprofit that participated in the study, said a lack of resources is just one barrier to greater distribution of reading glasses. In many Bangladeshi villages, she said, community workers struggle with the social stigma associated with wearing glasses, especially for women.

Overall, the health needs of women in Bangladesh take a backseat to those of men. “In our male-dominated society, when a man has a problem, he requires immediate attention, but women can wait,” she said.

But the effects of declining vision can be especially pronounced for women, who are often responsible for earning extra income for their families on top of childcare and household chores, Ms. Mahjabeen said. “When it takes longer to sew and clean, or you can't get all the kernels out of the rice, domestic violence occurs in some families,” she said.

VisionSpring distributes more than two million pairs of glasses per year across South Asia and Africa, up from 300,000 in 2018.

The PLOS One study builds on previous research involving tea pickers in India who found a significant increase in productivity among study participants who received reading glasses. The article, a randomized trial published in The Lancet Global Health in 2018, documented a 22% increase in productivity among workers who were given the glasses. For those over 50, productivity increased by almost 32%.

Agad Ali, 57, a Bangladeshi tailor in the city of Manikganj, was among those who received a pair of glasses as part of the study published this week. In an emailed interview conducted by a community health worker, he described how worsening presbyopia had made it increasingly difficult to thread needles and sew clothes, increasing the time it took to complete each tailoring job. As time passed, he said, some clients went elsewhere and his income began to decline. “He made me feel very helpless,” he said.

Since receiving the glasses, he said, his income has doubled. “These glasses are like my lifeline,” she told the community health worker. “I couldn't do my job without them.”

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