Matthew Alpert, OD, with school children from the Soweto community

We See Progress and Possibility

By Matthew Alpert, OD April 06, 2015

Phumla, a 16-year-old student who aspires to be a doctor, struggled to learn and feared crossing the street due to vision issues. Keamogetswe, an 11-year-old who loves school, saw his grades steadily decline as his vision got "worse and worse."

These are just two of the nearly 1,500 students in Soweto, South Africa, who have received free comprehensive eye exams and glasses through We See: A Child Eye Health Project

It's rewarding to see such strong progress since I traveled to Soweto in April 2014 to launch We See with the aim of reducing uncorrected visual impairment among schoolchildren by 90% over three years. The project takes a unique approach that reimagines philanthropy by pairing the strengths of the VSP Global businesses with Brien Holden Vision Institute, a leading player in the industry, and the local government to create a sustainable solution to a critical health need.

In South Africa today, there are fewer than 300 optometrists available in the public sector for a population of 41 million. Youth are at a particular disadvantage since it's estimated that 6 out of 10 children in South Africa with reduced vision can be corrected with glasses, yet just 20 percent of those children who need glasses have themWe See is training nurses and teachers to help address this need, while also providing continuing education for optometrists in pediatric optometry.

More than 33,000 students have already been screened by nurses from the Gauteng Province Ministry of Health or a project optometrist. Children with vision or potential eye health issues are referred to the optometry office at the Nike Football Training Centre for a comprehensive eye exam and, if prescribed, new glasses donated by Marchon Eyewear through Just Eyewear.

As I see it, as VSP Global celebrates 60 years, We See is just one of the ways that the business remains true to the mission to increase access to affordable, high-quality eye care and eyewear.

Today, Phumla's new Nike Vision glasses keep her safe as she walks to and from school and reduce the financial burdens on her family. And, according to Keamogetswe, "My grades have been improving a lot. It shows you what a difference glasses can make."

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