EASTON — Parts of the developing world are beginning to see things more clearly with help from an Easton man who is on a mission to bring affordable eyeglasses to remote locations around the globe.
Maj. Kevin White, who is retired from the U.S. Marine Corps, has developed USee Dial–Snap–Wear diagnostics and eyeglasses and is changing the vision for impoverished villagers in Mozambique and Ghana in Africa with plans of expanding to Afghanistan, South America, China and India.
Recently White won a WeWork Regional Creators Award, a National Geographic Chasing Genius Global Health award and, on Sept. 21, he presented his idea to the United Nations Global Health Summit.
White said he has worn glasses since he was a young boy and couldn’t imagine his life without them. Between his own experiences with vision challenges and events he encountered during his time in the Marine Corps, he was inspired to create USee.
“In the Marine Corps, I got this awesome job as a humanitarian specific assistance program director, and we ran programs all over Africa and Easton Europe,” White said. “We would take doctors and engineers with us. The engineers would build schools, prefab construction, and the doctors would do cleft palate surgeries or dental work — all kinds of things. But one of the things they did was eyeglasses. I really enjoyed it. It was one of my favorite tours in the Marine Corps.”
White said there are several charities and companies that offer eyeglasses and vision screenings to the same areas. However over the years, he was noticing there were some shortcomings in their efforts.
“The optometrist would take this big laser and take the reading and find the closest prescription out of the glasses that had been donated,” White said. “The education aspect wasn’t there. There was a big language barrier so the folks that were getting help really didn’t understand necessarily that all the glasses were different.”
White said he was noticing that people were choosing form over function.
“This one young lady kept pointing to these little skinny glasses, saying she wanted those. They said no, these big Farrah Faucet type things are your glasses, your prescription. She just refused,” White said. “So she left with the little skinny ones, could she see with the other ones — sure, but in the room at that moment it didn’t matter.”
White said from that experience he challenged himself to find a better way and began researching options to not only make eye care accessible and affordable but to also make it somewhat fashionable.
That was in 2005.
Since then White has worked with Josh Silver, a professor at Oxford University in England, and his fluid-filled glasses and lenses created by Nobel Prize laureate Luis Alvarez. Alvarez’s lens consist of a two wave-shaped polycarbonate plates lens technology which also lends itself to an adjustable non-prescription eyewear.
Through the Marine Corps program, White was able to purchase $80,000 worth of Silver’s fluid-filled glasses that could be handed out by Marines and didn’t require an optometrist.
“So that was 40,000 pairs of glasses in just a few years, but the program no longer exists through the Marine Corps,” White said. “The glasses lowered the educational threshold from optometrist to anyone, with a day of training, but we still had a difficult time finding people that would wear them.”
He said the problem with the fluid-filled glasses is that they are thick and heavy. He said older folks would wear them but younger generations refused them no matter the benefit. The glasses were also a bit costly at $20 a pair.
“I had an idea that if I could replicate the distributor experience, the fact that we could get the educational threshold down to a day, and find that person’s right prescription and then give them real conventional eyeglasses. I might be on to something.”
He said the goal was to make the process easier, cheaper and to have more consumer acceptance.
In 2009, White retired from the military and created Global Vision 2020, a charitable organization, and began dispensing Silver’s and Alvarez’s glasses to countries in Africa.
He said neither pair were quite optimal for what he was trying to accomplish.
“What we really need is a device that replicates the distribution capability, where the patient can control their own power and turn the lens,” White said. “But in the end you have a nice pair of snap-together eyeglasses.”
From that White began creating USee in 2014. USee is an affordable, transportable, easy-to-use vision correction kit that is designed to suit the needs of the 2.5 billion people for whom glasses are necessary yet inaccessible.
The kit includes a pair of 3D printed glasses with slide controlled vision lenses that allow the patient or the distributor to find the best vision correction for each individual; a variety of different snap-in lenses that meet the vision needs of an individual and 250 pairs of different colored glasses for them to choose from. The best part is each pair of glasses cost under $5.
White said he had presented his idea to Zeiss Vision and Essilor Vision Foundation, both said it was interesting concept but neither company picked up on his vision for affordable accessible eye wear.
He said that experience was disheartening for him and he thought maybe he was wrong about this being such a large global need.
“But then you see these people in Ghana lining up for glasses and kids in Mozambique that had really bad vision,” White said. “You just can’t ask for any better validation.”
White said the award money he received and the exposure will enable his start-up nonprofit to advance in technology, gather a stockpile of materials and help get the word out that there is this capability out there.
In November, White will be competing to win the $500,000 WeWork Global Creator Award in New York.
“That would allow us to have a real staff, no one is paid right now. We are all volunteers, so it would be really nice to have a full time staff — a core team,” White said.
Since March, he has given away 800 pairs of eyeglasses in Mozambique and Ghana and currently there are 1,000 more pairs in Ghana being distributed with the help of Ken Wood of Lifetime Well Drilling International in Denton. There are also plans to distribute more in other locations including Afghanistan and China.
For more information about Global Vision 2020 and USee, visit www.gv2020.org.
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