Many rural dwellers have never had their eyes tested, and their vision has often deteriorated slowly over many years. When optician Bernie Keown realised that the rate of vision problems was higher for agricultural workers than for any other sector (an average of 50% of farm workers should be wearing glasses), he and a colleague were inspired to start Agrivision, an eye-care programme which focuses exclusively on farm workers. In Bernie’s words: “I can’t change the world, but I can change the world for one person when I help them improve their eyesight.”
Most employees in the agricultural sector will never have had an eye test for a variety of reasons – they may live far from town, they may be intimidated by the idea, the expense may be off-putting, or it may simply not have occurred to them. Agrivision eliminates these barriers by taking their testing facility directly to the farms and providing testing for free. If a farm worker does need spectacles, he or she can purchase them from Agrivision (who will make them up and deliver them to the farm), or can take the prescription elsewhere.
The advantages of eye testing go beyond the provision of spectacles however. Bernie and his team frequently detect the early warning signs of glaucoma and other diseases which may lead to blindness if left untreated. These workers are given a referral to a clinic for further tests and treatment if necessary.
The Piketberg farm was the first of the fund farms visited by Agrivision and despite our prior conversations with Bernie we were surprised by the results. Of the 78 employees tested (both men and women, with an average age of 40 years), 52 needed spectacles. At the Bonathaba and Brandwacht farms, 189 employees were tested (with an average age of 39 years) and 106 of these needed spectacles.
All of these workers were provided with their prescription eyewear for free as a benefit of their OCSA Gold membership. Warning signs of possible glaucoma or other serious problems were detected in thirteen of the workers and they were referred for further testing. It was also noteworthy that two of the workers were identified as colour-blind, something neither of them had previously known. Both of these were men; interestingly, colour-blindness is very rare in women.
There are obvious advantages to the farm operator in having an effective eye-care programme on the farm – any vision impairment may affect a worker’s ability to carry out his or her job, particularly in a packhouse situation, and the test takes only three minutes per employee (up to fifteen minutes if any refractive errors are detected or further testing is needed) so productivity is not impacted.
The astonishing change to workers’ quality of life when they are suddenly able to see clearly for the first time in years is the driving factor behind this programme, and we look forward to rolling it out at other farms.