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Private and Entrepreneurial Sectors can play key role in addressing lack of access to glasses for over 1billion people

Published: 31.01.2024
Glasses for All Improving Supply to the Poorest

About 1 billion people around the world lack access to the glasses they need to see clearly, often due to inefficient supply chains and outdated regulations, according to a new report by Frontier Economics commissioned by the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB).

The report, titled “Glasses for All: Improving Supply to the Poorest,” sheds light on the often-overlooked supply-side barriers that prevent many in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) from obtaining affordable, quality glasses.

Releasing the report Peter Holland, Chief Executive of IAPB said “While much attention in recent years has been paid to raising awareness and providing eye exams, this report argues that as well as continuing this important work, the private and entrepreneurial sectors can play a critical role in reaching the billion people who don’t have access to glasses. But to do so we need to address systemic issues within the supply chain of glasses as a crucial step to reaching those in greatest need.”

Key findings of the report include:

  • Outdated regulations: Strict regulations surrounding who can prescribe and sell glasses can lead to inflated costs and limited access. The report recommends exploring alternative models, such as allowing trained technicians to sell mass-produced glasses for simple refractive errors, under the guidance of suitable medical professionals, potentially benefiting up to 80% of the underserved population.
  • Fragmented supply chain: Lack of competition, inefficient distribution, and high import tariffs contribute to the high cost of glasses. The report suggests leveraging the entrepreneurial spirit of the informal sector, optimizing distribution networks, and reducing import barriers to drive down prices.
  • Lack of development of entrepreneurial business models Many small businesses in LMICs lack the support and financing to develop and invest in inventory and expand their reach. The report encourages governments and NGOs to work together to support the development of entrepreneurial providers including developing accessible financing options.

Commenting on the report Sumrana Yasmin, Deputy Technical Director – Eye Health and URE at Sightsavers said “This new report reveals a broken vision system in developing countries, where outdated regulations, a fragmented supply chain, and limited access to finance keep affordable glasses out of reach for millions. But there’s hope. By empowering trained technicians, streamlining distribution, and fostering local enterprise, we can unlock 80% of the market, ensuring clear sight for all.”

The report highlights that there is a crucial role for IAPB and others in the eye health sector in implementing the report’s recommendations:

  • Advocating for regulatory reform: Lobbying for changes to regulations governing the sale of glasses, including expanding the scope of qualified personnel and simplifying prescription requirements.
  • Supporting new business models: Facilitating the development and implementation of innovative approaches to supply and distribution, such as regional hubs and partnerships with the informal sector and collaborating with governments and financial institutions to provide funding opportunities and technical assistance to entrepreneurs in the eyewear industry.
  • Working to reduce import tariffs and customs frictions to reduce costs on imports

Welcoming this new report James Chen, Philanthropist and IAPB Global Ambassador said “By addressing these supply-side challenges, we can unlock the potential for a more efficient, consumer-oriented market for glasses, ensuring that everyone, regardless of income, has access to the vision care they need to lead a productive and fulfilling life.”

The full report is available for download at this link.