Vision for a Nation Foundation Chief Executive Officer Tom Rosewall (GRD ’78) highlighted the lack of proper eye care for individuals in developing nations and his work in Rwanda at an event hosted by the Master of Science in Foreign Service program on Feb. 17. Held in the Intercultural Center, Rosewall’s discussion focused on the significance of eye care to global populations, business productivity and economic progress.
According to the Vision Impact Institute, a non-profit organization raising awareness for proper eye care, about 2.5 billion people worldwide suffer from untreated vision problems. In 2010, poor vision directly caused a $2.3 trillion global economic loss.
Rosewall noted how vision problems, including conditions like presbyopia, a progressive loss of near-vision affecting people after about age 40, as well as nearsightedness and cataracts have far-reaching effects for people’s life prospects if left untreated.
“How many potential leaders are out there who can’t see?” Rosewall said. “The kids can’t get an education. The adults can’t work.”
Serving as CEO of Vision for a Nation since 2014, Rosewall changed the institutional structure of the organization to allow it to support the Ministry of Health in Rwanda, utilizing the country’s existing health infrastructure to provide primary eye care to the approximately 1.2 million rural Rwandans who need it.
Vision for a Nation operates by training primary care nurses to perform local vision screenings and simple treatments like eye drops to eliminate the backlog of eye patients stressing Rwanda’s health system. The organization also ensures Rwanda’s 502 health centers and 42 district hospitals are stocked with eye treatments like reading glasses and increases awareness for eye care in Rwanda through advertisement campaigns.
Holding up his own pair of reading glasses for emphasis, Rosewall emphasized the cost-efficiency of his vision treatment solution as he has begun to implement it from Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.
“I sourced these for 46 cents,” Rosewall said. “That’s how inexpensive most solutions can be.”
Rosewall said Vision for a Nation plans to expand from Rwanda by 2018, potentially moving to Botswana or Bhutan to support health ministries with eye care in those countries.
According to Rosewall, the organization plans to leave Rwanda with a high public awareness about eye care issues, a sustainable health program without patient backlog and with a profit; the government of Rwanda gains about $1 from each pair of glasses sold.
Rosewall said that unlike other organizations, Vision for a Nation shines as an exemplar of a well-run initiative on a national scale.
“We did something that is totally nationwide,” Rosewall said. “It’s the only program in the world that works.”
Though Vision for a Nation continues to impact eye care in Rwanda, Rosewall said eye care is not an issued adequately emphasized in the international sphere, noting its absence from the United Nations Sustainable Development and Millennium Goals.
“This is a forgotten thing,” Rosewall said. “Nobody thinks about this problem. This is a problem that’s so cross-cutting; it affects everything.”
To increase global vision care awareness, Rosewall plans to launch the Clearly Initiative, a campaign hoping to address proper eye care in developing regions, beginning in March and closing in 2018. With solution-creation competitions and conferences bringing together industry professionals, the initiative will span six continents and has already been in contact with companies like Amazon, Warby Parker and Uber to secure funding and cooperation.
Rosewall expressed his confidence in the initiative, citing an early endorsement agreement with a non-governmental organization promoting adult literacy as a mark of future success.
“If I can get one NGO like that, I’ll get more,” Rosewall said.
Maurice Masozero (GRD ’17), a Rwandan who attended the event, said Rosewall’s talk was interesting and aligned with his studies.
“I thought it was great,” Masozero said. “I work in the health field myself, though in other things, but I think it was very thought-provoking and it’s a really great program.”
Chad Davis (SFS ’19), who also attended the event, said he was cautiously optimistic.
“I think the Clearly plan is certainly ambitious and it’s hard to say if such a plan can exist at a global level because there are so many ambiguities and differences amongst each country in the world, specifically pertaining to their health care industries,” Davis wrote in an email to The Hoya. “But I like to think I am optimistic so it is certainly possible.”
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