Malnutrition A Cause Of Visual Impairment

The World Health Organization estimates that 90% of the world’s 180 million people suffering from serious visual impairments live in developing countries. The major cause of blindness in these countries is due to malnutrition or trachoma, a degenerative bacterial disease that causes blindness slowly. Eye care in third world countries is virtually nonexistent because of the high rates of poverty. In Ghana, for example, there are 50 optometrists for every 20 million, and the per diem salary equates to less than a dollar. Furthermore, it can take up to one month’s salary and one week of travel to obtain a pair of eyeglasses. Most people would rather live with very poor eyesight than sacrifice food, shelter, and the well-being of their family for a pair of glasses that could easily be lost, stolen, or broken.

An Oxford University physicist named Dr. Joshua Silver has been seeking a response to this situation and has developed a pair of eyeglasses that allow wearers to adjust the prescription in about 30 seconds. The lenses are infused with a polyester film, and a knob on the side of the glasses allows the wearers to put more or less film on the lens, bending the lenses for a higher prescription. The lenses can correct nearsightedness and farsightedness, but not astigmatism. Dr. Silver started a company called Adaptive Eyecare that sells the lenses for about $10 a pair.

The causes of eyesight loss are not highly publicized topics. Unlike hearing loss, which can occur from repeated exposure to loud music or noises, the loss of eyesight seemed less preventable, until now. My sister is a type I diabetic, and she knows that if her blood sugar levels get out of control, and stay out of control, it can permanently damage her eyes. The issue of malnutrition as it relates to eyesight loss here in the United States is similarly preventable, and probably similarly prevalent in our low-income students as it is in developing nations.

This issue of high-poverty and eyecare hit home when I thought about my students. Many of them have terrible nutrition and may likely suffer from similar malnutrition conditions as those in developing countries. Furthermore, many of our students’ families are living from paycheck to paycheck, without steady health care or income with which to pay for glasses. The implications of unaddressed visual impairments can seriously impact their education, beginning with issues like not being able to see the board or the words on the test, to missing entire lessons because of the visual component.

Created By: Kristen Holtschlag

Footnote: Thompson, Nicholas, 2002: “Self-Adjusted Glasses Could Be Boon to Africa”.