This One Health Intervention Could Mean $19 Billion in Growth for India
It could solve a problem that affects 1.1 billion people globally.
You might not have heard of presbyopia — many of the 1.1 billion people around the world who are affected by it won’t have.
Nevertheless, it’s the most common cause of vision impairment globally, and more than 90% of people living with it who are unable to access treatment are in developing countries.
It’s essentially a decline in near-vision that’s connected to ageing and, as the Global Disability Summit got underway in London for the first time on Tuesday, new research was published about how presbyopia is costing the global economy billions.
A report, published in the Lancet Global Health on Tuesday, is the first time that presbyopia’s workplace effects have been assessed. And the results are pretty astonishing.
The research was funded by Clearly, a global campaign to bring clear vision as quickly as possible to the 2.5 billion people who are living with poor vision — including presbyopia — around the world. Global Citizen has partnered with Clearly in the effort to achieve this ambition.
Researchers conducted a trial of 750 Indian tea pickers in Assam — mainly female and all aged 40 or over — to explore the connection between clear vision and productivity for the PROSPER report (which stands for Productivity Study of Presbyopia Elimination in Rural-dwellers).
Having glasses improved the workers' productivity by 22% — and by about 32% for those aged over 50. That’s the largest-ever recorded productivity increase from any health intervention.
If that improvement was replicated across the whole of India’s crop industry, according to Clearly, it would mean an extra $19 billion in growth from productivity gains alone.
“There is a clear and certain case for improving vision and providing sight tests for our business’ employees,” said a spokesperson from Amalgamated Plantations Private Ltd., owners of the tea garden where the trial took place, in a statement provided to Global Citizen.
“It makes work more productive and more rewarding, and at the heart of this study there is a clear message for businesses like ours — good vision is vital to what we do,” they said. “This is a turning point in awareness of the impact of clear vision on our tea garden’s wellbeing and productivity.”
Clearly believes that "clear vision is the golden thread that will help reduce poverty, deliver quality education, decent work, and gender equality." And research indicates that improvements to quality of vision have a significant impact on an individual's quality of life, beyond mere productivity.
It can lead to improvements in well-being, in confidence and indepedence levels, and in a reduction in the risk of falls and other injuries that can result from age-related near-vision.
Importantly, improving an adult's vision can also positively impact on their families and children. Having access to glasses means they can see to do their job more effectively, and they can therefore stay in work longer. That means an increased income for their families, and it means their children are able to stay in formal education for longer.
“We thought it was crucial to demonstrate that performance, even of tasks which may not seem obviously visual, can be boosted so impressively by glasses," said Professor Nathan Congdon, of Queens University Belfast and director of research at Orbis International, the study’s principal investigator.
“Nearly 90% of workers were still wearing their glasses by the end of the study and virtually all were willing to pay to replace them if needed — people knew they were benefiting from better vision,” he added.
If it goes uncorrected, presbyopia can present a huge obstacle in carrying out daily activities. For those with professions that demand a key eyesight — reading, writing, weaving, picking tea — it can be devastating.
While a pair of glasses treats presbyopia safely, effectively, and inexpensively, very few people have access to simple treatments, like a sight test, in low-income countries.
“700 years after glasses were first invented we now have conclusive proof of the link between clear vision and productivity,” said James Chen, founder of Clearly. “Poor vision is the scandal the world forgot, and affects a third of the world’s population.”
Clearly will now be writing to leading businesses, sharing the results of the trial and urging them to introduce work-based sight schemes.
The research shows how a simple pair of glasses can improve productivity and break the cycle of poverty, and it represents a significant step forward in our understanding of the role that clear vision plays in accelerating progress towards the UN’s Global Goals.
Clearly hopes that the report will encourage companies all over the world to ensure that their workers have access to glasses — which can cost as little as $1.50 to produce — and other eye care treatments.
It’s also hoped it will add to the growing call for large companies that operate in poorer countries to provide free work-based sight tests.
The research was carried out in collaboration with VisionSpring, a social enterprise dedicated to providing affordable glasses around the world, and Orbis, a global organisation fighting avoidable blindness worldwide.