Monday, December 12, 2016

Sight for Sore Eyes

Have you ever put on somebody else’s eyeglasses and wondered how in the world they can see through them? 

It’s hard to see through glasses that aren’t yours, but that’s what we ask our patients at the Nueva Vida Clinic to do all the time when we try to match them with used glasses that have been donated. But thanks to a pilot project we’re doing with the Bucknell University Engineers, we can now make eyeglasses to order at the Nueva Vida Clinic!

Since we started our Vision Program six years ago with training from a Cuban ophthalmologist, Pat and I together with a host of volunteers have weekly been doing vision testing and trying to match patients to used glasses that we get donated from the New Jersey Lions Club Eyeglasses Recycling Center. While this system works very well for reading glasses, it’s harder for distance glasses: we have to find patients a match in their right eye then the left, as well as a match for astigmatism corrections. Most of the time we can get close to what patients need, but it’s usually not exactly what they need, and that can make a big difference. Even when we get close, the frames are often out of style which has a big effect on patients’ ability to adjust to wearing glasses.

So in an effort to get patients' glasses made to their own prescription in better-looking frames, we are working with engineers to try out a pilot program in hopes that we can create a low-cost sustainable vision program that can be adapted to other places as well. The program is called Project for Sustainable Eye Care or PROSEC.

In June, Bucknell engineering graduate student Paden Troxell came down to Nicaragua with small machinery, a stock of a selection of frames and blank lenses in a range of pre-ground prescriptions. Paden taught Pat and Sarah and I how to make the glasses and use the small lens cutter and lens beveller, and since then we’ve been giving our patients at the clinic the option of purchasing PROSEC glasses for just under $7 instead of trying to match them to a donated pair of distance glasses.   We settled on the price of $7 to cover the cost of the frames, lenses and someone to cut the lenses and fit them to the frames, since Pat and I hope not to be doing that forever!

So far we have sold and made over 100 PROSEC glasses, and have found that since we have begun to offer the low-cost glasses, more patients are coming in to the Clinic for eye exams. In November, we worked together with our Ciudad Sandino Rotary Club to do three days of Vision Checks in rural communities and in a local church. We checked everyone's blood pressure, did vision checks, handed out reading glasses at no charge, did refraction tests for distance glasses, and sold PROSEC glasses. In that time we saw 195 patients, handed out 115 reading glasses and sold 42 PROSEC glasses, the vast majority of which Pat made in the following weeks (with a tiny bit of help from me).

These vision days were a huge success, and we hope to continue them more regularly next year with the help of Rotary and community volunteers. Just making the glasses more accessible to people – making it easy to get eye checks, affordable price, and good choice of frames – means that many more people will be able to see!

Of course we’re learning as we go – we will be adding a new machine in January in hopes of making the lens cutting more efficient, we will be revising our frame stock to remove difficult frames and add more popular styles, and while we can’t currently correct for astigmatism, we hope be able to do so in the future. - Becca