Leading Eye Health Organisations Chart Course for Safer Roads and a Clear Vision India

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Chennai: Four leading Indian eye health non-profit organisations hosted the 3rd Vision and Road Safety (VARS) Conference at the IIT Madras Research Park, in Chennai. India Vision Institute, Mission for Vision, Sightsavers India and VisionSpring came together to raise awareness about the need to integrate vision screening and eyeglasses into the global and national agendas for road safety.

With as much as 59% of crashes linked to poor vision, an easy way to reduce the risk of death and injury is to ensure that drivers with vision impairments have eyeglasses so that they can see clearly.

The Conference coincided with the National Road Safety Week commemorated every year to raise awareness on road safety issues.

More than one hundred leaders from eye health and road safety sectors deliberated the issues and ways to scale up access to vision correction for drivers and allied transportation workers to reduce the risk of vehicular crashes and associated injuries and deaths.

The VARS 3.0 Conference builds on the past two years’ convenings. Through their efforts to -date, the four have screened the vision of 16.46 lakh (1.64 million) commercial vehicle drivers, helpers, cleaners, mechanics, and other transport workers in India. The key to each programme’s success has been making sight tests convenient by bringing them to transportation hubs, ports, break-bulk centres, and rest areas.

Programme participants discussed the importance of prioritising road safety as a public health issue by building vision screenings into the National Road Safety Plan and the unique challenges of providing eye health services to this floating population in a sustainable manner.

The Conference commenced with a lamp-lighting ceremony led by the Chief Guest, Kamran Khan, Senior Director, Trade & Investment, South Asia, Australia, who delivered a special address and set the tone for the day. The conference was chaired by a steering committee comprising Anshu Taneja (Managing Director and Trustee, VisionSpring, India), Elizabeth Kurian (CEO, Mission for Vision), RN Mohanty (CEO, Sightsavers India), and Vinod Daniel (CEO, India Vision Institute).

Discussions focused on the transformative role of technology, specifically Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) and connected vehicles, in revolutionising road safety. The Conference emphasised a multi-disciplinary approach, stressing collaborative efforts among engineers, designers, policymakers, and health professionals to formulate holistic safety measures. Essential components included targeted education and awareness campaigns for vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists.

Speakers underscored the role of continuous monitoring and evaluation of road safety initiatives for effectiveness and improvement. Attendees advocated for collaboration between governments and organisations for the development and implementation of effective policies and regulations. They also emphasised the importance of identifying contributing factors and exploring comprehensive solutions.

Anshu Taneja, Managing Director, India, VisionSpring, Elizabeth Kurian, CEO, Mission for Vision, R. N. Mohanty, CEO, Sightsavers India, and Vinod Daniel, CEO, India Vision Institute, announced their joint “commitment to sustain this initiative by screening an additional one million commercial driving communities by 2026.” In their statement, the four industry leaders also agreed to “collaborate with government, corporates, civil society organisations, and foundations to scale this initiative across the length and breadth of Indian roads to reduce vision-induced road accidents.” They added, “the initiative will strengthen India’s vision towards Universal Eye Health Coverage.” 

Participants in the conference included, among others, Dr. BR Shamanna, Professor, School of Medical Sciences, University of Hyderabad, Dr. Geetakrishnan Ramadurai, Professor, Transportation Engineering Division, IIT Madras, Rashima Asokan, Professor, Elite School of Optometry, Rahul Goel, Assistant Professor, TRIPP, IIT Delhi,  Pooja Bajaj, Founder and CEO, SADAK,  Krishnan Srinivasan, Senior Transport Consultant, World Bank GRSF,  Eva Lazuka Nicoulaud, ​​Head of Advocacy and Partnerships for Europe and Africa, OneSight EssilorLuxottica Foundation,  Geetha Anand, Principal Project Officer, CoERS, IIT Madras, and  Bhanu Suresh, Project Director-Concern, RSafe India.