We did not know if subsidies affect whether or not children with poor vision acquire glasses. Families face many costs -- from education to care for elderly relatives. If vision care services were available to rural families, would they even use them? Answering this question is important as we develop new models for the provision of vision care in rural areas.
In our 2012 and 2013 studies we provided vision screenings to thousands of primary school students. While doing so we conducted a subsidy experiment. Among the children who needed referral to optometrists, we provided half with subsidized glasses. The other half was encouraged to purchase their own eyeglasses.
In the 2012 study, we screened 20,000 primary school students for vision problems. We found that 4800 needed glasses. Of the children who received the subsidy, 77 percent obtained glasses. On the other hand, only 21 percent of the children who didn’t receive the subsidy bought glasses.
Similarly, in our 2013 study, we provided screenings to 9764 students and found that 2938 needed glasses. 65 percent of children who received the subsidy acquired glasses, compared to 9 percent of children who did not receive the subsidy.
What is the key takeaway? In order for vision screenings and care to be effective, eyeglasses must be subsidized.