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13 Oct 2009 06:00
Extraordinary self-adjusting glasses, with little wheels on the sides, are being shipped to Afghanistan, Ghana and Tanzania this month.
Anyone can alter the strength of the lenses themselves by turning wheels on the side of the glasses, eliminating the need for an eye expert or expensive replacements.
The glasses have their roots in a 1964 discovery by the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Luis Alvarez.
The American designed a lens that bulged out on one side and curved in on the other. By placing two such lenses on top of each other and moving one but not the other, the focus could be changed, Alvarez showed.
But ‘the technology to produce those lenses with the needed high precision was developed only a few years ago”, said Dutch industrial designer Frederik van Asbeck, who is the brains behind the new glasses, called FocusSpec.
The glasses have been tested in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Ghana, India, Nepal and Tanzania. Although similar glasses have been designed, FocusSpec is the first of its type that can be produced in large quantities. A shipment of 30 000 will be sent from the Netherlands this month.
Tanzanian optometrist Lillian Mujemula applauds the move. ‘Most of our clients live in remote areas where there are no optometrists. People are very happy with the glasses because they are of good quality and easy to use. I believe people can wear them for many years.”
Holland’s Focus on Vision Foundation, part of the World Health Organisation, plans to manufacture one million pairs of glasses a year. ‘I see people’s faces light up when they adjust their spectacles and discover they can read again, take care of themselves, work, get an education,” says Jan in’t Veld, a board member for Focus on Vision.
He says the lenses resist scratches, water, dust and ultraviolet rays and are almost as good as the far pricier lenses found in shopping malls.
But opthalmologist Ben van Noort, another Focus on Vision board member, warns that the lenses don’t help the blurred vision of people with astigmatism. ‘Still, they work for 80% to 90% of adults,” Van Noort says.
The glasses are expected to be sold at local shops, schools and health centres for up to $5 a pair. The technology is expected to improve the lives of millions of adults in the developing world living with poor eyesight.
Brien Holden, professor of optometry in Sydney and chairperson of the International Centre for Eyecare Education, calls the FocusSpec ‘an important stop-gap solution”, but advocates ‘the longterm strategy of educating eyecare personnel and creating optical workshops and distribution channels in each community in need”.—www.SciDev.Net
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