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This Is the World’s Largest Unaddressed Disability — and It Affects More Than a Third of Us

Just one single disability is stopping children getting an education, undermining economic productivity, and entrenching gender inequality around the world. 

And it’s a disability that affects more than a third of us: poor vision. 

More than 2.5 billion people around the world suffer from poor vision without access to even the most basic treatment. These problems can develop even at a young age — there are hundreds of millions of children globally who require vision correction. 

And if you can’t see the board, or read a book, it’s almost impossible to learn. In turn, not being able to see limits that child’s chance to find a good job, and build a better future. 

Take action: Globally 2.5 Billion People Need Access to Glasses — Ask Theresa May to Lead the Way for Change

Some 90% of people who are suffering from poor vision without access to treatment are living in the developing world — meaning that the world’s poorest people are bearing the disproportionate burden of the $3 trillion cost to the global economy that poor vision causes every year. 

“We are reaching a watershed in the way the world deals with disability, smashing stigma, and demonstrating the amazing ways people can overcome disability to lead full and inspiring lives and make a huge contribution to society,” said James Chen, founder of Clearly, a global organisation that campaigns to get everyone access to eye tests and glasses. 

“Set against this, we must refuse to accept that 2.5 billion people around the world cannot see clearly, just because they lack access to a basic pair of glasses,” he added. “In an age where we are looking to put a human on Mars, we can do better than this.” 

“We can give the millions of people across the Commonwealth the chance to see clearly and achieve their true potential,” he said. 

Read more: Global Citizen Live Is Coming to London — and You Can Be There. Here's How

This April, leaders from the 53 Commonwealth nations are meeting in London, for the Commonwealth Health of Government Meeting (CHOGM). 

Clearly, working with Global Citizen, wants to make sure that we take this opportunity to put vision on the global agenda. 

Currently, poor vision is not directly addressed in the UN’s Global Goals for sustainable development, which aim to end extreme poverty by 2030. 

But for Clearly, addressing poor vision would be the golden thread that ties together numerous Global Goals — including access to quality education; gender equality; and economic opportunities. 

Read more: Why Global Citizen Live in London Is a Big Deal for Gender Equality, Health, Nutrition, Education, and More

Glasses are a simple solution that have been around for over 700 years, and cost as little as $1 to produce. 

But there are four things standing in the way — which Chen refers to as the “4Ds.”

1. Diagnosis 

Many of the people who suffer from poor vision do so because they have no way of getting an eye test. Tight regulations often mean that tests can only be carried out by doctors who have received years of training. But technology allows someone — for example a community nurse, or a teacher — with just three days of training to carry out a simple test. This is already being done with great success in countries like Rwanda and Botswana. 

2. Distribution

Most of those with poor vision live in rural parts of the developing world. But these areas aren’t entirely unreachable. According to Clearly, if you can get a can of Coke to a village, you should be able to get a pair of glasses there too. 

Read more: Here's Who's Performing at Global Citizen Live in London (So Far..!)

3. Dollars

Lengthy supply chains and the payment of import taxes and duties mean costs get piled onto a pair of glasses by the time they reach those who need them. But in Rwanda, which has become the first low-income nation to provide all its people with local access to affordable primary eye care, this problem was solved by reducing tax and import duties, and relaxing rules allowing glasses to be dispensed where they are needed.

4. Demand

Even once glasses have reached those who need them, social stigma is putting people off wearing them. This poses a real problem. Clearly, however, believes that this problem can be overcome once the market reaches a critical mass and more people are able to access the glasses they need.


Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the UN’s Global Goals, which include action on achieving universal healthcare for all — which must include access to eye care. You can join us by taking action to tackle poor vision here

On 17 April, Global Citizen will be hosting some of the country’s biggest musicians, stand-up comedians, performance poets, and public figures, for one-night-only in Brixton. You can find out more about the event and how you can win tickets here