Sightsavers, a global development organisation works in over 30 countries to combat blindness, restore sight and work for the rights and needs of those with irreversible visual impairment
RN Mohanty, CEO of Sightsavers India shares insights with Tanuvi Joe on how technology is revolutionising eye care and the policies government can implement for the better treatment of visually impaired people.
What is the magnitude of blindness and vision impairment in India?
According to IAPB, out of 36 million blind people in the world, there are eight million blind people in India. The number of people who are blind could rise to 115 million by 2050.
Since 1966, Sightsavers has been working on eye health. Tell us about your major programmes like the Truckers programme and The National Rural Eye Health Programme in this arena and their outcomes?
Making districts as its unit of operation, Sightsavers is reaching out to the urban and rural poor where eye health is not a priority for many but is indeed a need for letting them lead a life of independence and dignity. The launch of RAAHI – National trucker’s eye health programme by Sightsavers was a result of the aforementioned thought of eye care delivery to the unreached. Since drivers can’t get to eye care services, Sightsavers in India have created a system which takes the services directly to them. The programme’s ingenious: there are 29 sites around India’s ‘golden quadrilateral’, which covers the main long distance haulage routes across the whole country. Some are permanent vision centres, others pop-up outreach camps, but all are in locations where drivers stop as part of their usual route to rest or unload cargo.
The goal of Rural Eye Health Programme is ‘improving the vision-related quality of life through strengthened eye health systems’ focusing on the poor and deprived sections of the society. The National Rural Eye Health Programme aims to increase the Cataract Surgical Rate (CSR) in the selected districts in order to contribute to a reduction in the prevalence of blindness. In 2017, we had our REH Programme spread across 73 districts in eight states of India.
RPG, Cholamandalam, RayBan, SIAM, DDF, Fullerton, Urvi Ashok Piramal Foundation and Jindal are some of the corporate partners supporting us for these programmes.
What are your major focus areas, in terms of geography and socio-economic strata?
In order to strengthen its state level impact and ensure that it serves the more needy areas to a greater extent, Sightsavers geographic focus for 2014-2018 is on states identified as being the least developed as well as with the greatest need for eye health: Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, MP, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and West Bengal.
How is technology revolutionising eyecare?
About a decade ago, the tools available for the diagnosis of eye diseases and its treatments were very different and kind of limited. Students with visual impairment were limited to Braille in schools and colleges. However, the scenario has changed for the better. With the digital revolution, we have assistive devices like e-books, smart phones and tablets that cater to children with visual impairment for their learning and skill development. Due to assistive technology, people with disabilities have an opportunity of a more positive and easygoing lifestyle.
How do you create and train a pool of skilled personnel working for eye health?
Sightsavers support its partners in giving training to ophthalmologists, vision technicians, District medical officials, mid-level health workers to work towards greater quality and productivity of eye care services. Collaboration with/ and strengthening of training organisations are the main components of the integration of eye health training.
What are the other strategies, policy interventions needed from the government to better treatment of people with visual impairment?
The impact of blindness and poor vision on quality of life is particularly alarming for those living in poverty. Therefore, I think that the government should put more eye care and resource allocation. Its coalition with the non-governmental agencies will help in strengthening the policies and executing them on the ground. India has a cataract surgical rate of 5,200 per million per year. Through the strengthening of HR, MIS (Management Information System) and Eye Care Infrastructure, we will be able to increase its cataract surgical rate in India.
How do you intend to extend your reach and presence in the country?
One important target of Sightsavers in India is to strengthen human resources at the grassroots level in the coming days. Adequately human resource is a core requirement for the prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of avoidable blindness. On the ground, partnerships will remain geared to achieve quality outcomes and to meet strategic needs locally and nationally. In addition to reaching more people, it will also be a significant contributor to civil society voices advocating for sustainable change, and a technical resource on each of the programmes.