Millions of people in Africa who could never dream of seeing normally now have a chance to, with a new type of adjustable-lens eyeglasses that don’t require an optometrist. As the Independent article says, in Ghana there’s one optician per 400,000 people in the country. I’d expect numbers in the rest of the continent to be similar. But with these glasses that magnify with variable levels of silicon oil, the user can simply adjust the levels of oil until their sight becomes clear, and readjust them if their sight degrades later in life. And they cost about 14 bucks a pair.

Currently Ghana and South Africa are buying millions of pairs for their citizens, and good for them. But frankly, as Instapundit points out, there will most likely be people who are unhappy about this . He (perhaps a little faceitiously) pegs anti-globalists.

Well, maybe.

After all, you can never overestimate the propensity of the hemp-sandaled unwashed hordes to find fault with something that has to do with life-improving technology in underdeveloped countries, especially one in which the Western suppliers of that technology are making a profit (as the article points out, the glasses sell for about 14 bucks, which is more than they cost to make), no matter whether or not their profit-making ends up helping millions. It’s the triumph of fanatic idealogical purity over any consideration of practicality: making profits often comes with some sort of enviromental or cultural drawback, so therefore, any action that results in private enrichment is, at best, morally suspect, and at worst, the height of all evil.

But I think even more likely than getting the goats of the anti-globos, I would not be surprised if this move aroused the indignation of government officials and other elite members of African society. As pointed out in the comments section of the Samisdata post:


A few years ago there was an admirable scheme whereby people gave away their old glasses to Africa. The glasses were sorted into necessarily approximate categories of sight correction and distributed to those who needed them . A generous scheme, you would have thought. Not everyone did, though. Ah, the screams of outrage at this “second best” scheme – as if half a loaf were worse than no bread. (Or as if GM modified food were worse than no food at all, perhaps.)


As Natalie points out, this scheme was derided as being “second-best” and therefore likely a form of racism or imperialist pandering. Can’t you just hear the shouts of moral outrage at this “hand-me-down” insult? No matter that such a plan would give real, non-trivial help to millions whose life would be improved by the ability to see better, the fact that it wasn’t a perfect solution means that it was actually worse than doing nothing.

I think it’s highly possible that there will be those who will call this plan to give the gift of clear sight to millions of Africans simply not good enough . What the West should do to make up for the rape of Africa is to spend billions of dollars training optometrists in Africa, and then shedding many more billions to pay for free designer Italian specs for poor-sighted Africans, so that Africa can have the same kind of eye care developed nations do.

Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t happen, you say?

Does it sound any sillier than berating the US and calling it stingy and greedy for not sending billions of dollars in foreign aid to Africa without any strings attached? Often when America gives foreign aid to troubled economies, part of the agreement is that the recieving country implement economic reforms (essentially free market programs and efforts to lessen corruption) that would make them more self-sufficient, less dependent on aid, and more prosperous. Recently, after the Johannesburg summit, assembled African governments demanded a huge increase in economic aid from the US that carried no such restrictions. The demand is, quite simply, ludicrous and the height of arrogance. Acceding to those demands would be the equivalent handing a twenty dollar bill to a homeless guy whom you know will spend the money on bottles of Ripple. I’m all for foreign aid to Africa. The place is in shambles generally and badly needs help . But just throwing gobs of money at them and hoping their governments will use it sensibly is a recipe for disaster. At best, you’ll be pouring billions of dollars into the pockets of various bureaucrats and failed economic models.

But doing anything less than that is derided as implicit imperialism and racism.

The news of the adjustable glasses is heartening though, and will go a long way towards improving life in those countries. Now, if only we could convince the place to accept GM seed stock, they may start themselves on a road tpwards real, significant improvement in the lives of Africans.

last update : 22-11-2017

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