Do-it-yourself glasses to put opticians out of work?

27 Jan 2009, 0142 hrs IST, Rema Nagarajan , TNN

MEWAT: Jan Mohammed looks sceptical as he lifts the owl-like round thick-frame spectacles out of its case.

He wears them and slowly adjusts the knobs on the arms of the spectacles as he is instructed, all the while looking at the number plate of a car parked at a distance. Suddenly, his face brightens. ‘‘Yes, I can see it. Yes it works. It does,’’ he says slowly.

Jan Mohammed, a resident of Bisru village in Mewat district of Haryana, was testing DIY (Do It Yourself) adjustable glasses, an invention of an Oxford professor that obviates the need for an optician. In places like rural Mewat, where opticians are few, the invention could be a god-send since the glasses cost as little as $1, or Rs 50.

Professor Joshua Silver, a retired Oxford University physics professor, developed the adaptive spectacles, which can correct vision for far-sighted and near-sighted people, in the mid-’90s. About 30,000 of these spectacles have already been distributed in 15 countries in Asia and Africa. A million such spectacles are to be distributed in India, starting with Mewat.

The distribution is to start through the Rasuli Kanwar Khan Trust, which works in 500 villages in the Mewat region. Mehmood Khan, a businessman whose family runs the Trust and who himself hails from Nai Nangla village in Mewat, now resides in the UK and had come into contact with Prof Silver and the idea of distributing glasses in India took shape.

Says Khan: ‘‘From the several eye camps that we have organised in the area, we know that there are a large number of people who are suffering from poor eyesight and who need the glasses. Their poor eyesight makes the simplest tasks difficult for them. To reach an optician they would have to go to the nearest urban centre, which could be Gurgaon or Faridabad, and are often too poor to afford the glasses they are prescribed. There will easily be a million people needing these glasses.’’

It is estimated that about a fifth of any group of people need vision correction. As the population gets older, the number of people with a condition known as presbyopia or diminution in the power of accommodation of the eyes lens, also increases.

In the adjustable glasses, the lenses have silicon fluid-filled thin polyester sacs sandwiched between tough plastic glasses. The lens can be adjusted by the wearer by varying the amount of fluid in each lens. The glasses come with small syringes attached to each arm with a dial or knob that has to be turned by the wearer to add or remove fluid from the lens.

They may not be fashionable and questions have been raised about their durability and maintenance. But, at the promised price, those are minor pinpricks.