Globally, at least 2.2 billion people have a near or distance vision impairment.
In at least one billion, or almost half of these cases, vision impairment could have been prevented or is yet to be addressed.
In low-income countries such as Bangladesh, vision care is inaccessible to a large chunk of the population due to its costly nature and a lack of awareness about its importance.
A Europe-based vision care social enterprise called DOT Glasses has come up with radical solutions for prescription glasses in countries where poverty and ignorance towards healthcare is an issue.
After serving in over 14 countries, DOT Glasses is now in Bangladesh to provide prescription eyeglasses to people from rural and poverty-stricken communities.
The Business Standard recently spoke with the Director of Business Development at DOT Glasses, Ivan Lukas.
"We do not only provide access to a good vision for low-income people who cannot afford to visit the pricey ophthalmologists, but we also make sure to create job opportunities through the local distribution network we set up in all the countries we go to," said Lukas.
In Bangladesh, DOT Glasses has already partnered up with various local distribution channels such as doctors in villages and local vendors to widen their reach and make their prescription glasses available at only Tk350, all-inclusive, to the low-income urban and rural population of Bangladesh.
DOT Glasses is the world's first one-size-fits-all eyeglasses that are also adjustable.
Along with providing vision care for less than half the average price, it also enables local microentrepreneurs to earn a livelihood by selling the glasses.
"The microentrepreneurs can easily earn $300 to $400 a month by using the small kit to examine a person's eyesight," Lukas said.
What is DOT Glasses doing in Bangladesh?
The concept of DOT Glasses started with the six basic lenses that can correct up to 90% of vision loss.
"With these only six lenses, we can correct bad eyesight. Also, the smaller number of lenses plays an important role in the manufacturing and transportation of DOT Glasses, especially when we try to reach the more remote areas."
Globally, over one billion have bad and uncorrected vision without access to a pair of prescription glasses and a majority of this population belong to low-income countries such as Bangladesh, Afghanistan, India, etc. This is the challenge DOT Glasses tries to address.
"Our technology for these glasses is super simple and this allows us to reach those parts of the world many large commercial entities will not tap into - such as the rural and poverty-stricken communities of Bangladesh. We want Bangladeshi people from the underprivileged communities to have access to something as trivial and basic as a pair of glasses," Lukas told the correspondent.
The concept of glasses, in theory, is simple enough but it can be a little more complicated in practice.
Without proper vision, thousands of people in Bangladesh do not have access to education and work despite being one of the first countries to introduce a national programme for the prevention of blindness in the 1980s.
Despite these high-level efforts, at least six million people in Bangladesh, including 1.3 million children, suffer from refractive errors preventing them from effectively participating in day-to-day activities.
DOT Glasses was established in 2014 by Philip Staehelin, who himself suffered from extreme vision loss since childhood.
Lukas said, "As he grew up, Philip perceived that a person could do every day-to-day activity even without having 20/20 vision. All they need is a good pair of glasses to see better."
What makes it financially accessible?
DOT Glasses was designed in a way so it can be disassembled and reassembled within only a couple of minutes.
The compactness of these glasses allows transportation and distribution costs to be comparatively lower than the average cost of transporting and distributing spectacles worldwide.
One of the reasons DOT Glasses cost so less is because they use local and non-traditional distribution channels.
They partner with existing networks, such as NGOs, INGOs, or government organisations along with participating in community and development programmes in a country.
They also provide village doctors with a kit for free, at the beginning, with which they can dispense the glasses as an additional service to their current activities and repay the amount owed for the kit later once they start making money.
The sales activity can be both carried out at the DOT Glasses Vision Camp, an on-site vision care centre that checks people's eyesight and prescribes glasses as required, and afterwards.
"We go to people who have never seen optometrists or heard about eye diseases in detail. DOT Glasses may not be able to treat refractive errors but because of us, they can learn about their vision problems and can have them checked out by an ophthalmologist later," Lukas said.
Apart from providing basic vision care guidelines and prescription glasses, DOT Glasses also raises awareness about vision problems globally.
"In one Vision Care Camp, we get around 100 to 200 patients a day and for me, social impact means to treat all these 200 people, and not just the 20 people who get prescribed glasses."
Everyone who comes to the camp is screened for potential vision problems and the benefits of coming to the camp are enjoyed by everyone.
DOT Glasses has started the camp in the rural communities of Bangladesh as well as with their local distribution team and representatives visiting from the headquarters.
Although a pair of glasses cost only Tk350, the quality has not been compromised.
DOT Glasses uses polycarbonate scratch-resistant lenses and lasts for years as its plastic frame is damage resistant.
The sturdy frames and lenses do not suffer wear and tear even after being out in the field for long hours during the scorching summer of Bangladesh.
The glasses come in five separate components, which bring down the manufacturing, logistics, and distribution costs to an all-time low.
As a result, the final production cost of the pair of glasses also comes down to an end-user cost of $3 on average.
"Transporting thousand pieces of DOT glasses from Europe to Bangladesh and from here to other places in the country is super space-intensive as hundreds of these glasses can be packed tightly in a single box without fearing breakage. But if you tried doing the same with traditional glasses, all of them would break or become damaged," Lukas explained.
This compact design also makes it easy for these glasses to be transported to remote areas where transportation and logistics facilities can be dreadful.
Meeting SDGs with a sustainable business model
The fundamentals of DOT Glasses is focused on a sustainable business model and despite being non-profit, the sales margins ensure profitability throughout the distribution chain.
It is also self-financing and subsidised, which means DOT Glasses receive grants to reduce the prices of the glasses, activate camps, and seed microentrepreneurs.
Furthermore, their simplified supply chain and removing the need for an optometrist allows DOT Glasses to deliver cheap prescription glasses via channels that may not have previous eyecare experience.
DOT Glasses is a major enabler of societal equality and supports many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. They provide access to basic vision care for everyone everywhere.
Their glasses are also helping to increase productivity and earning of low-income people while helping children improve school performance and adults to read.
DOT's operations also support the creation of microenterprises and enable people to work according to their capabilities.
100% of DOT's end customers are Bottom of the Pyramid people. Lastly, 60% of people with uncorrected and poor vision are women and girls.
Globally, DOT Glasses has already sold over 10,000 pairs of glasses and they are on the verge of closing some of their major deals in countries in Africa.
Lukas, on behalf of DOT Glasses, visited Bangladesh last year in March but the operations were halted due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Picking up from where he left off, Lukas came back to Bangladesh this March and developed a robust distribution channel to streamline the socially and commercially sustainable vision care project.
As the conversation came to an end, we asked Lukas to give us two selling points of DOT Glasses.
In response, he said, "The first one will be the fact that we go where nobody else is and we provide radical vision care solutions where nobody else will go. The other one is the fact that DOT Glasses are the only prescription glasses social enterprise reaching out to people with vision impairment in underprivileged communities while being commercially sustainable."