Lenskart Foundation: Correcting Vision for a Brighter Tomorrow

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Nidhi Mittal Bansal

Blindness is a major public health issue, both in India and worldwide. About one-fourth of the world’s blind population is in India. According to the National Blindness and Visual Impairment Survey (2015-2019), Uncorrected Refractive Error (URE) is the main cause of visual impairment among people under the age of 49 years, while cataract is the leading cause of blindness among people above the age of 50 years. Eighty per cent of blindness and visual impairment can be prevented. However, eye care services’ availability, accessibility, affordability, and acceptability prevent people from seeking eye care. Those who can access eye care can easily go for a pair of spectacles or lenses. Those who can afford the expenses can opt for laser surgery or other refractive surgery procedures. But what about those who cannot afford these resources? It is a major issue with them. Living with a blurry vision is a problem that also affects their work productivity. It is here that we, Lenskart Foundation, play an important role by working for this segment of society. 

We are a not-for-profit organisation working since 2021 to eradicate avoidable blindness in the country. We want to eliminate it from the source and move towards a more progressive and envisioned India. We are doing so by opening our 100 per cent charitable eye care centres, especially in the backward areas where people have no access to primary eye care.

Visual impairment has a significant impact on a child’s life in terms of education and development. Judging the eye care condition in our country and its access to the underprivileged community, we aim to provide eye screening to all and not specific to any gender. Our survey found that low-income communities feel hesitant to even go for a basic eye test, leave alone a major treatment. This is because they are worried about the expenses involved in the screening process. We, therefore, understand how difficult it is to think about eye screening for children. This shows how poverty creates this social division where everyone does not have equal access to eye care. 

Our agenda is to provide preventive care, and children are our primary and priority subjects. Data shows URE is more prevalent in the 13-15 years age group in rural and urban school children, and it is the main cause of visual impairment among kids. Visual impairment has a significant impact on a child’s life in terms of education and development. Judging the eye care condition in our country and its access to the underprivileged community, we aim to provide eye screening to all and not specific to any gender. Our survey found that low-income communities feel hesitant to even go for a basic eye test, leave alone a major treatment. This is because they are worried about the expenses involved in the screening process. We, therefore, understand how difficult it is to think about eye screening for children. This shows how poverty creates this social division where everyone does not have equal access to eye care. 

We opened our first 100 per cent charitable child eye care centre at the Tughlakabad Extension, New Delhi, in August 2021, with a vision to eradicate URE. Within a short period, we opened our second centre in Ghaziabad, and the third in Kushi Nagar, UP.

The most satisfying part of our journey is seeing children doing well in their studies because of our efforts. They now do not have to drop out of school. Their clear vision will surely help them in achieving new heights. Even people in different occupations have reported that there has been a significant impact on their work productivity.

Let us read what two of our beneficiaries have to say about the impact they received. 

Mohd. Hamza
Mohd. Hamza is a nine-year-old boy studying in a government school. He had his eyes tested for the first time at our centre. To our surprise, his power was -2.5. On asking how he was managing so far, he said, “I did not feel like going to school. I could not concentrate on anything that the teacher taught. I am now very relieved as the glasses have given me clear vision. I am now a confident and better student.”

 

Anar Devi
Anar Devi, 50, a housewife, said, “I never knew that this severe headache and blurriness is due to my poor vision. I thought it was due to my age. I felt very depressed and demotivated when I could not contribute to any household work. But after using the spectacles, I feel like a new world has opened up for me.”
To make our programme effective and result-oriented, we follow a process where, every three months, we follow up with our patients to check how they are feeling. We ask them to revisit the centres to examine if there are any changes in their numbers. We also see a trend where they keep visiting our centres if they feel any problem or missed their glasses. This shows that they have explicit trust in us. It fills us with a great deal of happiness when they visit us with their problems because these are the people who never knew that their eyes also need care. Our continuous motivation and awareness programmes have changed their vision in every way. 

Apart from opening the vision centre, we have also started our services to the neediest community in an even more mobile and accessible way. Our Lenskart on Wheels, a powerful initiative powered by our Foundation, provides free eye screening to more than 10,000 truck drivers in Delhi/NCR and gives them free corrective eyeglasses. Our pilot project started in Ghaziabad Transport Nagar. We will expand it across India as our Road Safety programme to cover lakhs of drivers. We have already initiated dialogue with the government. Our idea of conducting eye screening for these drivers is to address the stigma attached to this working population, as wearing glasses means they have poor vision leading to road accidents. But the story is the other way round. By wearing glasses, these drivers can drive safely and have a better and clearer vision. Therefore, by conducting eye screening for them, we are ensuring road safety in the country. 

Our major focus is on sustainability. This is why we focus on opening these centres rather than doing random camps for a limited number of people. To make our programme effective and result-oriented, we follow a process where, every three months, we follow up with our patients to check how they are feeling. We ask them to revisit the centres to examine if there are any changes in their numbers. We also see a trend where they keep visiting our centres if they feel any problem or missed their glasses. This shows that they have explicit trust in us. It fills us with a great deal of happiness when they visit us with their problems because these are the people who never knew that their eyes also need care. Our continuous motivation and awareness programmes have changed their vision in every way. 

But to implement all these initiatives effectively, we are continuously working on creating awareness in the communities we are working with. In our research, we have found that people are mostly unaware of the signs of poor vision. We organise awareness sessions in the communities through nukkad nataks and meetings and distribute pamphlets to create awareness about regular eye testing. While doing so, we always focus on a few mentioned points that are the common signs of a vision problem:

  • Blurred vision
  • Headache
  • Difficulty in reading or seeing up-close
  • Crossing of the eyes in children
  • Frowning and squinting when reading and excessive blinking
  • Rubbing the eyes is a symptom of refractive error in children

Being a social organisation, we not only focus on accessibility but also on advocacy and awareness creation. We want to create a massive awareness of the importance of regular eye screening and wearing glasses. There are so many misconceptions attached to wearing glasses that even if people get their eyes tested, they do not wear glasses for several reasons. We are continuously working to gather data from the field and document and analyse them to decide our future course of action. We are confident that, with time, this data can be an eye-opener to unveil many crucial issues related to eye care. We have planned to report this data to the government so it can plan action on large-scale activations. 

We plan to open 200 vision centres pan India, especially in the far-flung areas where accessibility and affordability are serious concerns. We are also in partnership with different NGOs and the marketplaces to target the driver community pan India through our mobile vans. A lot more is in the pipeline, which we still have to execute. These are related to child nutrition, stone cutting workers, and other communities

Apart from all these, we are actively working to make vision care a vital agenda of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. The major SGDs where vision care plays an important role are: SDG 1 – Poverty – poor vision leads to poor productivity. SDG 3 – Good Health and Wellbeing – poor vision creates serious mental and psychological issues, leading to poor health. SDG 4 – Quality Education – 91 million children and adolescents have a vision impairment but have no access to the eye care services they need. Corrective glasses can reduce the odds of failing a class by 44 per cent. SDG 5 – Gender Equity – Data shows vision loss is more among women than men. Targeting them by providing them eye care can increase gender equity; SDG 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth – Healthy eyes can increase work efficiency and productivity, leading to an increase in per capita income. These are some of the goals that can be directly targeted, although there are many others where vision care plays a vital role. The idea behind this discussion is to highlight the importance of eye care as it is currently the most neglected component in our health system. 

We plan to open 200 vision centres pan India, especially in the far-flung areas where accessibility and affordability are serious concerns. We are also in partnership with different NGOs and the marketplaces to target the driver community pan India through our mobile vans. A lot more is in the pipeline, which we still have to execute. These are related to child nutrition, stone cutting workers, and other communities. 

We are hoping that gradually, we will move towards an India that is entirely refractive, error-free and avoidable blindness, cease to be a concept. 

Nidhi Mittal Bansal is the Chairperson at Lenskart Foundation.