CSR interview of R N Mohanty, Chief Executive Officer, Sightsavers


What preventive measures can be taken to combat irreversible visual impairment?

It is important for us to have regular eye examinations in order to prevent the damage of our eyes.

Most people should have their eyes tested at least once every two years. For someone who has a health condition like diabetes, glaucoma or high blood pressure, he/she will probably need to have them tested more regularly. Your optometrist can advise you about how often to have your eyes tested.

It is very important for drivers and people whose eyesight may be affected by their occupation, such as those who use computer monitors, to have regular eye examinations.

Children should also have regular eye examinations. This is because it is very important that visual problems are diagnosed early so that learning and other developmental problems can be prevented.

Can you please comment on the level of awareness that Indian have about the need for proper eye care? What have been the changes that Sightsavers has seen in India in terms of combating blindness and restoring sight?

The awareness is always good in many parts of the country. Unless eyesight deteriorates to a level which significantly compromises normal human functioning, people tend to relegate the need for care. Children often find it hard to articulate the problem and a resigned interest from school and interpersonal activities coupled with falling grades can be seen as a symptom of eye problems.

Sightsavers’ School eye health Programme operates in socio economically vulnerable neighbourhoods and rural areas where there is limited education, availability and access to affordable eye health services. This means that communities lack the opportunities to awareness.

Sightsavers in the last five decades has witnessed many changes since 1966. We have been a part of many innovations in the field of eye health both in building awareness and in terms of technology. In the last five decades, Sightsavers has supported treatment for over 36.5 million patients having potential eye problems and performed more than 5 million Sight Restoration Operation. In little over than the last decade, more than 25,000 visually impaired and blind primary school children have been supported under Sightsavers’ Inclusive Education programme, and over 15,000 people with disabilities have received livelihood or vocational training.

How much is blindness/partial blindness/other eye problems in India attributed to lack of awareness?

Over 75% of blindness is avoidable that is, they are either preventable or curable. In India, good quality cataract and refractive services reach out to only half of the people in need. The cause of this is lack of social or family support and either direct or indirect cost. Most people are aware of their issues regarding eye health and the possibility of treatment for it. However, they are apprehensive of the either the treatment procedure or are deterred by previous experiences from the other.

members of their community. Any program aimed at improving the eye health situation of a region thus has to be a combination of both demand side interventions and supply side interventions.

What was the thought process behind RAAHI? Why truck drivers in particular? What all cities does it operate in? What has been the feedback of the initiative? How do you plan to make RAAHI an all India initiative?

Sightsavers realises the importance of eye health for the overworked truckers’ community in ensuring road safety. The occupation predisposes them to a multitude of risk factors such as prolonged sitting and motor vehicle driving, tight running schedules, reduced rest breaks, traffic congestion, and the sedentary nature of job, and resultant physical, psychological and behavioural problems.

Since drivers can’t get to eye care services, Sightsavers in India have created a system which takes the services directly to them. RAAHI – National Truckers Eye Health Programme is one of the biggest eye health programme in the country for the overworked truck drivers’ community.

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. Drivers’ details are digitally uploaded using tablets so they can take the QR code ID card they’re given to any site along their route and pick up their treatment where they left off, even choosing where to have custom made glasses sent to. At the pop up camps local partner eye care teams literally set out their kiosks and begin screening in a matter of minutes.

Some of the locations are Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata, Jaipur, Mumbai, Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Ganjam, Jamshedpur, Kanpur and Visakhapatnam among others.

Sightsavers India aim to reach 500,000 drivers in this way by the end of 2020. It is likely to have a significant impact on road safety as well as giving drivers and their families much needed security for the future.

What is the common factor leading to eye distress and what can be done to reduce vision related issues which in the case of those on the road can lead to major accidents?

Most of the causes of blindness are amenable for prevention and control. Risk factors that are non‐ modifiable like aging as well as modifiable ones like human behaviour and social factors are equally responsible for increased prevalence. Non‐communicable or lifestyle related disorders like diabetes also contribute to increased prevalence of unavoidable blindness. Emphasis has therefore, been made to develop infrastructure at various levels to provide eye care.

Eye ailments like diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma are some of the emerging causes of blindness in India, especially amongst impoverished and rural communities. It is estimated that diabetic patients are highly vulnerable to eye related problems called diabetic retinopathy. Such patients require treatments like laser shots at regular time intervals to prevent them from going blind. A critical ingredient for successful management of these cases and preventing them from going blind is regular monitoring of all aspects of the disease. Non-compliance i.e. dropout from annual screening or regular diabetes management often is the cause for irreversible damage.

A regular eye checkup and early detection are the keys to prevention of damage in the future.

Apart from government initiatives, how do you plan to take the eye health awareness programs to the grass roots level in India?

Sightsavers in India has been working at both State and District level. 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.

How does Sightsavers plan to strengthen existing health systems? What is your outreach at the grassroots level?

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.

What are the target cities for Sightsavers in India or are you present in PAN India?

We work across 100 districts in 8 priority states namely, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal. Besides, we also have learning states where we have pilot projects including the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

Sightsavers provide free eye checkup camps for people. On basis, of that how do you plan to make sure that the patience are taking care of their eye as per the requirements?

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. The beneficiaries are apprised on the practices of how to take care of their eyes once sight restoration surgeries are done or after spectacle is dispensed to return to get their eyes tested at the vision center after a stipulated time.

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