Hong Kong entrepreneur James Chen launches contest to help solve eye problems of world’s poor

Inventors urged to come up with solutions and vie for a prize of US$250,000 in seed money

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 April, 2016, 6:55pm
UPDATED : Friday, 08 April, 2016, 10:49pm

A Hong Kong philanthropist and entrepreneur has launched a competition to spur inventors into coming up with ways of solving the eye-care problems of the world’s poorest people.

James Chen’s “Clearly” campaign invites technologists, supply chain experts and others from outside the eye-care community to develop solutions and vie for a prize of US$250,000 in seed funding.

Chen, the founder of Adlens, that makes adjustable focus glasses, also runs a charity promoting eye health in the developing world. He hopes the campaign will promote awareness of the 2.5 billion people with poor vision and who have no means of improving their sight.

“The tools are there to solve the problem but through this campaign we hope to find ways to accelerate that process,” Chen said.

Alongside the main competition, the campaign will invite inventors to take part in one-day “Clearly Labs” challenges where they will meet health professionals to help inspire new ideas.

A brainstorming session with leaders in the field will also be held, with the overall campaign goal of achieving universal vision correction by 2040, Chen said.

Around 285 million people around the world have disabling vision impairment or blindness and a further 517 million people do not have adequate glasses, according to the World Health Organisation.

Visual impairment disproportionately affects people on low incomes and in developing countries, according to the WHO. These problems affect productivity and national economies.

Poor vision is an urgent issue in developing countries because people unable to find work may lack access to the medical care needed to save their eyesight.

Chen hopes the competition will provide ideas along the lines of the Peek app, which allows health workers equipped with a smartphone and adapter to detect signs of glaucoma and cataracts.

Chen’s company Adlens, develops adjustable focus glasses for both the commercial market and for humanitarian causes.

The entrepreneur and investor grew up in Nigeria and said this experience prompted him to explore how to bring better vision to the developing world.

He founded the Vision for a Nation Foundation which helps emerging countries provide affordable eye care and glasses.

The foundation has trained 2,000 nurses in Rwanda who work across a network of clinics to assess a patient’s eye problems and whether they need glasses or a referral to an eye doctor.