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A simple way to improve a Billion Lives: Eyeglasses
by Andrew Jacobs
The New York Times
 
Panipat, India — Shivam Kumar’s failing eyesight was manageable at first. To better see the chalkboard, the 12-year-old moved to the front of the classroom, but in time, the indignities piled up.
 
Increasingly blurry vision forced him to give up flying kites and then cricket, after he was repeatedly whacked by balls he could no longer see. The constant squinting gave him headaches, and he came to dread walking home from school.
 
“Sometimes I don’t see a motorbike until it’s almost in my face,” he said. As his grades flagged, so did his dreams of becoming a pilot. “You can’t fly a plane if you’re blind,” he noted glumly. The fix for Shivam’s declining vision, it turns out, was remarkably simple. He needed glasses.
 
More than a billion people around the world need eyeglasses but don’t have them, researchers say, an affliction long overlooked on lists of public health priorities. Some estimates put that figure closer to 2.5 billion people. They include thousands of nearsighted Nigerian truck drivers who strain to see pedestrians darting across the road and middle-aged coffee farmers in Bolivia whose inability to see objects up close makes it hard to spot ripe beans for harvest.
 
Then there are the tens of millions of children like Shivam across the world whose families cannot afford an eye exam or the prescription eyeglasses that would help them excel in school.
 
“Many of these kids are classified as poor learners or just dumb and therefore don’t progress at school,” said Kovin Naidoo, global director of Our Children’s Vision, an organization that provides free or inexpensive eyeglasses across Africa. “That just adds another hurdle to countries struggling to break the cycle of poverty.”
 
In an era when millions of people still perish from preventable or treatable illness, many major donors devote their largess to combating killers like AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. In 2015, only $37 million was spent on delivering eyeglasses to people in the developing world, less than one percent of resources devoted to global health issues, according to EYElliance, a nonprofit group trying to raise money and bring attention to the problem of uncorrected vision.
 
The World Health Organization has estimated the problem costs the global economy more than $200 billion annually in lost productivity. “Lack of access to eye care prevents billions of people around the world from achieving their potential, and is a major barrier to economic and human progress,” said Madeleine K. Albright, the former secretary of state who is also involved in the group.
 
The initiative’s backers point out that responding to the world’s vision crisis does not require the invention of new drugs or solving nettlesome issues like distributing refrigerated vaccines in countries with poor infrastructure. Factories in Thailand, China and the Philippines can manufacture so-called readers for less than 50 cents a pair; prescription glasses that correct nearsightedness can be produced for $1.50.
 
But money alone won’t easily solve systemic challenges faced by countries like Uganda, which has just 45 eye doctors for a nation of 41 million. In rural India, glasses are seen as a sign of infirmity, and in many places, a hindrance for young women seeking to get married. Until last year, Liberia did not have a single eye clinic.
 
“People in rural areas have never even seen a child wearing glasses,” said Ms. Sirleaf, who was president of Liberia from 2006 to this year. “Drivers don’t even know they have a deficiency. They just drive the best they can.”
 
On a recent afternoon, hundreds of children in powder-blue uniforms giddily jostled one another in the dusty courtyard of a high school in Panipat, two hours north of New Delhi. The students, all from poor families, were having their eyesight checked by VisionSpring, a nonprofit group started by Jordan Kassalow, a New York optometrist who helped set up EYElliance, that works with local governments to distribute subsidized eyeglasses in Asia and Africa.
 
For most, it was the first time anyone had checked their eyesight. The students were both excited and terrified. Roughly 12 percent were flagged as having weak vision and sent to an adjacent classroom where workers using refractor lenses conducted more tests.
 
Shivam, the boy who dreamed of being a pilot, walked away with a pair of purple-framed spectacles donated by Warby Parker, the American eyewear company, which also paid for the screenings. “Everything is so clear,” Shivam exclaimed as he looked with wonder around the classroom.
 
Anshu Taneja, VisonSpring’s India director, said that providing that first pair of glasses is pivotal; people who have experienced the benefits of corrected vision will often buy a second pair if their prescription changes or they lose the glasses they have come to depend on.
 
Then there is the matter of road safety. Surveys show that a worrisome number of drivers on the road in developing countries have uncorrected vision. Traffic fatality rates are far higher in low-income countries; in Africa, for example, the rate is nearly triple that of Europe, according to the World Health Organization.


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In Nepal, drinking water can be deadly
by Oxfam, Mercycorps
 
May 2018
 
In Far West Nepal drinking water can be deadly — especially for children, by Dr Helen Szoke (Oxfam Australia).
 
Due to the lack of clean and safe drinking water, more than 92% of children aged under five have frequent bouts of diarrhoea.
 
And for many, it can be life-threatening. In 2015, diarrhoeal disease killed over 1,000 children under the age of five in Nepal.
 
45-year-old Hira has four children. Every day, Hira spends 14 hours collecting water for her family. But the water isn''t safe.
 
In her village in Far West Nepal, there is no access to clean water. Everyone, including Hira and her children, must survive on dirty water.
 
Hira''s children frequently fall ill from waterborne diseases, like diarrhoea.
 
“My son gets sick with things like a fever, a cold and sometimes skin problems and diarrhoea from the water," she says.
 
Hira, like any mother, just wants a better life for her children. She has lived her entire life without access to fresh, clean water. But she doesn''t want her children to follow the same fate.
 
“I don’t want the younger generation to suffer like us, like I have suffered my whole life here,” she says.
 
Oxfam is in Nepal installing tap stands and improved water and sanitation systems, so that families can access clean drinking water.
 
But we need your continued support to continue this important work to provide clean water to families in Nepal. Children need clean water to grow up healthy and strong. No child can thrive when they drink dirty water and suffer from disease. http://bit.ly/2IcnNrk
 
Apr. 2018
 
The long road to recovery: Three years after the devastating Nepali earthquake. (Mercycorps)
 
Since the earthquake struck Nepal three years ago, Mercy Corps has been working to help survivors like build back.
 
Climbing the quiet, winding dirt roads of the remote mountainside communities outside Kathmandu, Nepal, it’s difficult to imagine the chaos once felt here.
 
Life seems peaceful here, uncomplicated. But with that simplicity comes an innate vulnerability — in a country that was already one of the poorest in the world, recovering from the severe earthquake that struck three years ago has been a difficult process.
 
The earthquake, a 7.8 magnitude quake, destroyed over 800,000 homes and affected around 8 million people. Nearly 9,000 were killed and 23,000 injured. In a matter of minutes, entire livelihoods and communities were wiped out and 2.8 million people were left in need.
 
Even now as laughter comes easy and people move calmly through their days, communities still bear the scars of that disaster: temporary shelters, half-constructed buildings, small piles of rubble and a sincere uncertainty as to when things will be back to where they were before.
 
Mercy Corps responded in the days after the earthquake, helping 135,000 people with emergency aid, and has since been working to help the hardest-hit communities recover and build back stronger than they were before. Three years after the initial devastation, learn what recovery has been like for some of the people we’ve been working with. http://bit.ly/2jMhRuQ


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