Today I visited my mother, and maybe I got my enthusiasm for Isn’t Capitalism Great? stories from her, because like me she thinks that good news is important. And she told me of some very good news that was in last weekend’s Independent On Sunday. I made a copy of the cutting.
An Oxford physics professor is selling 10 million pairs of revolutionary new spectacles to Africa which enable the users to wear them for a lifetime without ever going to an optician.
The professor is a man called Joshua Silver, and the glasses he has devised are as remarkable an invention as I have ever heard about.
With normal glasses the lenses are made of solid glass. But Professor Silver’s lenses are filled with liquid (silicon oil), and you can alter the focus of these lenses by pumping liquid into or out of them so that they expand or contract. You fiddle about with them until they are just right for you. And if your eyesight changes, which for most people means your eyesight getting worse, you can alter them, just by twiddling a couple of knobs on the side of the glasses. You only ever need one pair of glasses in your entire life, and you never need visit an optician in your entire life.
None of this is now a particularly big deal in somewhere like London SW1 or New York City (although it quite soon may become important there as well), but in Africa, for millions upon millions who are now blurry-eyed losers, this is the chance to make visual sense of your world for the first time in your blighted life. Africa just doesn’t have opticians on every street corner the way rich countries do. Many Africans with bad eyesight never even learn to read, for this one reason. Educated people who used to have good eyesight but don’t any more now have to retire early. All that could now be about to end.
Through a deal with the WHO and the World Bank, Prof Silver plans to sell up to 400,000 adaptive glasses in Ghana with another edeal for 9.3 million pairs in South Africa also in the pipeline. The glasses are sold at about £6 through his company Adaptive Eyecare, based in Oxford, but cost less than that to make. With just 50 opticians in Ghana out of a population of almost 20 million, glasses that last a lifetime will prove a boon.
“It would take on average about 200 years to be seen by an optomotrist in Ghana,” explained Prof Silver. “But adaptive glasses obviate the need for a trip at all.”
Professor Silver’s story is like something out of Samuel Smiles’ Self Help.
The professor began work on his invention 17 years ago – although the technique of using liquid in lenses dates back to the 18th century. “When I first started working with variable power lenses, it was simply to see if they could be made,” he said. “Then I realised that if I could build something with the potential to help millions of people, I ought to just got out and give it a go.” …
Trials which have been under way in Ghana since 1996 have already proved successful. …
This man is a true do-gooder. No irony. No sense whatever that he might be wasting his time, or doing more harm than good. He’s not bossing anyone around or telling them what’s good for them. He has simply grabbed hold of a huge problem, and what is more, a problem in a place where the whole idea of problem solving has come to seem almost futile, and he has solved it.
In the picture of him that the Independent printed, he looks a happy man. He deserves to be.