Sight: a gender issue that can be solved with entrepreneurialism
Today, in Africa alone, approximately 26.3 million people suffer from some form of vision impairment, with limited access to treatment. Across the globe, vision impairment and poor vision more broadly remain one of the world’s largest unaddressed disabilities.
However, the effects of this global health problem are unequally felt. Research reveals that of all cases of vision impairment across the globe, women are disproportionately affected, representing two-thirds of all cases.
Inequalities like this very often go overlooked, but they have an enormous impact on people’s lives. Today, visual impairments are preventing women and girls around the world from accessing education available to them, thus reducing literacy rates and school attainment.
Poor vision can also drastically reduce workplace productivity, particularly for women working in intricate, labour intensive jobs, such as factory and farming work. The World Health Organisation has estimated that the global economic cost of poor eyesight on productivity alone is $270 billion a year.
On International Women’s Day, we must recognise the huge implications this disability has on the education, productivity, and personal development of women across the globe.
However, there is good news – solutions to this global problem lies within our reach. There are 2.5 billion people around the world today suffering from poor vision, but it’s estimated that 80 percent of all cases of poor vision could be addressed with a simple pair of glasses – a 700-year-old invention.
So what is holding us back, and why are women more affected?
Ultimately, the fact that women and girls are more likely to suffer from vision problems is not due to biological differences, but a result of unequal social structures.
In many African nations, as in many countries across the world, women traditionally earn less and take on the lead care role within the family, in which they feed other family members first, consume less-nutritious meals and feel less able to leave the family home for their own personal errands
For example, more women remain blind due to cataracts because their chance to get treatment is lower than for men. In low and middle income countries, men are almost twice more likely to get cataract surgery than women.
This is amplified by the fact that women are exposed to greater risk-factors, such as prolonged proximity to children with transmissible eye infections.
Our first step towards achieving genuine progress in tackling this global health challenge of improving universal access to eye care is recognising these complexities and committing to a more collaborative approach on a global scale.
Social structures are developed over many years, and are resistant to change. We cannot expect to be able to topple such systems and practices overnight.
However, we can do much more to improve access to vision treatment for everyone, regardless of gender, socio-economic bracket or location. Today, across Africa, on average, there is one ophthalmologist per 400,000 people, with only seven training centres for the entire continent.
However, I believe we stand at a vital tipping point. We live in an age of radical and disruptive entrepreneurial thinking, when advances in technology mean previously unthinkable solutions are well within our reach.
In 2016, I founded Clearly, a new campaign designed to accelerate and revolutionise our approach to world vision. As part of the campaign, we ran a global competition, the Clearly Vision Prize, which was designed to source and support the businesses advancing this sector – from diagnosis through to supply chain and distribution.
The first prize went to South Africa-based Vula Mobile. Vula is a smartphone application designed to overcome the shortage of specialist eye-care consultants in developing nations. Initially backed by the SAB Foundation, the app allows primary healthcare workers to share results of tests and scans with specialists who, from miles away, can offer a diagnosis or treatment.
We also recognised PEEK, a Kenya-based startup, with a lifetime achievement award. PEEK allows health care workers to take quality retinal images, capable of assisting in detecting cataracts, macular degeneration, diabetes and glaucoma, with only a smartphone and an inexpensive clip-on lens.
With smartphone connections across Africa reaching 226m – almost double last year, the potential for these innovations to transform access to basic eye care and vision treatment is limitless. New technologies like these have the capacity to overcome long-term social and economic barriers, and deliver basic health care to everyone, regardless of gender.
The economic incentive is there. Current rates of poor vision are costing the global economy an estimated $3 trillion a year. In Kenya alone, PwC estimates that investing $1 in tackling vision impairment results in a $3.56 economic gain for the country.
Tackling the world’s largest unaddressed disability is vital to breaking down gender inequality and social divisions on a global scale.
James Chen is Founder of Clearly, a new global campaign to address the problem of poor vision across the globe
GfK and VMware: Innovating together on hybrid cloud
GfK has been the global leader in data and analytics for more than 85 years, supplying its clients with optimised decision inputs.
In its capacity as a strategic and technical partner, VMware has been walking GfK along its digital transformation path for over a decade.
“We are a demanding and singularly dynamic customer, which is why a close partnership with VMware is integral to the success of everyone involved,” said Joerg Hesselink, Global Head of Infrastructure, GfK IT Services.
Four years ago, the Nuremberg-based researcher expanded its on-premises infrastructure by introducing VMware vRealize Automation. In doing so, it laid a solid foundation, resulting in a self-service hybrid-cloud environment.
By expanding on the basis of VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management, GfK has given itself a secure infrastructure and reliable operations by efficiently operating processes, policies, people and tools in both private and public cloud environments.
One important step for GfK involved migrating from multiple cloud providers to just a single one. The team chose VMware.
“VMware is the market leader for on-premises virtualisation and hybrid-cloud solutions, so it was only logical to tackle the next project for the future together,” says Hesselink.
Migration to the VMware-based environment was integrated into existing hardware simply and smoothly in April 2020. Going forward, GfK’s new hybrid cloud model will establish a harmonised core system complete with VMware Cloud on AWS, VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management and a volume rising from an initial 500 VMs to a total of 4,000 VMs.
“We are modernising, protecting and scaling our applications with the world’s leading hybrid cloud solution: VMware Cloud on AWS, following VMware on Google Cloud Platform,” adds Hesselink.
The hybrid cloud-based infrastructure also empowers GfK to respond to new and future projects with astonishing agility: Resources can now be shifted quickly and easily from the private to the public cloud – without modifying the nature of interaction with the environment.
The gfknewron project is a good example – the company’s latest AI-powered product is based exclusively on public cloud technology. The consistency guaranteed by VMware Cloud on AWS eases the burden on both regular staff and the IT team. Better still, since the teams are already familiar with the VMware environment, the learning curve for upskilling is short.
One very important factor for the GfK was that VMware Cloud on AWS constituted an investment in future-proof technology that will stay relevant.
“The new cloud-based infrastructure comprising VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation forges a successful link between on-premises and cloud-based solutions,” says Hesselink. “That in turn enables GfK to efficiently develop its own modern applications and solutions.
“In market research, everything is data-driven. So, we need the best technological basis to efficiently process large volumes of data and consistently distill them into logical insights that genuinely benefit the client.
“We transform data and information into actionable knowledge that serves as a sustainable driver of business growth. VMware Cloud on AWS is an investment in a platform that helps us be well prepared for whatever the future may hold.”