Closing the Vision Care Gap in Soweto, South Africa

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Understanding the Vision Care Gap

Seeing well in school is critical for learning, yet, according to the Brien Holden Vision Institute, as of 2014, just 20 percent of the children in South Africa who needed glasses had access to them.

“My vision made it difficult for me to learn, as I was slower than my peers and would often miss out on important information,” said Phumla, a 16-year-old from Soweto, South Africa. “This resulted in a lot of extra time at school, as I would have to stay in class during lunch breaks or after school to properly write down what the teacher had taught.”

Local health care providers feel the impact of this vision care gap as well.

“Many school children suffer from minor eye problems that can be eliminated with a pair of spectacles,” said Maureen, a nurse in Soweto. “Because parents don’t know about vision impairment, children’s vision problems go undiagnosed and continue to affect their lives and learning ability.” 

Closing the Vision Care Gap

The statistical reality of this gap in access to care inspired VSP to launch “WE SEE, A Child Eye Health Project,” a public-private partnership. VSP partnered with Nike to identify key local partners, such as Just Eyewear and Mellins i.Style, to explore a sustainable solution to help close this gap.

Brien Holden Vision Institute also joined in to administer the project, which worked with local government agencies to implement vision screenings and eye health management within the local Soweto schools. The program included specialized training for 26 school nurses and six new eye doctors to ensure the program was manageable.

Additionally, an eye health clinic was developed at the community Nike Football Training Centre. Over the past several years, the clinic alone provided more than 2,400 children with no-cost Nike Vision glasses.

Three years after the project’s inception, more than 95,000 children have received access to vision care through these cumulative efforts. Whether it’s becoming a doctor or succeeding in business, these children now have a fresh start in achieving their dreams.

WE SEE Today

“At the end of the project, the eye care clinic was donated to the local community and, through a local hospital, continues to provide critical access to eye care for people in the community,” said Dr. Matthew Alpert, VSP Global board member and VSP network eye doctor. “WE SEE has led to a sustainable solution for a community that was very much in need, and we are proud to have been a part of that journey.”

To learn more about WE SEE, A Child Eye Health Project, watch the video below:


  • Steve Epp says:

    How about closing the gap for U S citizens in fixed incomes first?

  • Jean says:

    U S citizens know such a thing as glasses exist and eye doctors are in a lot of areas. Introduce something new and generations after benefit from the knowledge. As do people far away like in the U S. Lack of vision can cause deep poverty – poverty like no one in the U S hopefully ever has to experience. I think VSP probably also does help people here. Helping some doesn’t mean others aren’t also helped. 🙂
    Thank you for your concern for hurting people here at home.

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