Sightsavers India: A Clear Vision for Tomorrow

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RN Mohanty

Losing one’s sight can be a terrifying and an isolating experience for a person. In a world that is not much accessible for the visually-impaired and other persons with disabilities, the duty falls on each one of us to work towards building a more inclusive and equal world. In many cases, blindness can be cured. Diagnosis at the right time, with the right treatment, can mitigate visual impairments in most cases. We know how blindness or visual impairment can affect daily living. Sight restoration can help those affected avail education. Employment reduces dependency on other people, making them feel included. We take visual impairment at old age for granted, which can, to a large extent, be delayed or managed. 

A visually-impaired person needs to be brought into the mainstream. Each person deserves the right recognition and opportunity to be part of an inclusive society. Informing, supporting and advocating are the tools for spreading awareness for accessible eye care. Primary healthcare is a luxury to many. Although there are efforts to minimise the gap between medical development and increased accessibility to the less fortunate, much needs to be done to continue to make progress in bringing down the numbers of visually-impaired people. 

As a nation, we have a comprehensive eye care programme. The goal is to lessen the occurrence of preventable sightlessness and monitor success rates of timely diagnosis and access to treatments. We, at Sightsavers, are in tandem with the Government’s focus on eye health and the empowerment of all those affected. 

We have helped treat millions of people with eye conditions. We have educated, counselled, trained, and rehabilitated the visually impaired and helped expand the scope of ophthalmic services to the neglected areas of India. We have also focused on working with people with disabilities and others to promote equal rights and opportunities.

Sightsavers on a Mission

Since 1966, we have been working in India to protect eyesight and fight for the rights of people with disabilities. Our vision is of a world where no one becomes blind by avoidable causes and where people with disabilities participate equally in society. We have had a significant impact on the lives of economically and socially excluded communities through eye health, comprehensive education for visually-impaired children, and a thematic portfolio of social inclusion for the disabled. Our main focus has been on expanding the programme in collaboration with various State Government departments. Target audiences and geographical blindness are important causes and consequences of poverty. We work with the underprivileged and marginalised communities to try and make vision care and corrective eye care accessible to as many people as we can. 

We have helped treat millions of people with eye conditions. We have educated, counselled, trained, and rehabilitated the visually impaired and helped expand the scope of ophthalmic services to the neglected areas of India. We have also focused on working with people with disabilities and others to promote equal rights and opportunities.

We partner with governments and other donor institutions to develop large-scale approaches to eliminate avoidable blindness and create a disability-inclusive world.

Restored Vision for Sukhro
Seventy-year-old Sukhro is a member of an isolated tribe called the Toto. He resides in Totopara in the Alipurduar district of West Bengal, India. Totopara is a small enclave located at the foot of the Himalayas just to the south of the borderline between Bhutan and West Bengal.
Sukhro had a bilateral, mature cataract which prevented him from seeing for almost 19 years. His condition had taken a huge toll on his life. With Sightsaver’s intervention, he got his eyes operated on under the Rural Eye Health Programme. He enjoyed every aspect of the treatment because he knew it would lead to him having his vision restored. When the Sightsavers team met him in December 2020, they were amazed to find him making Tukri, a basket made from bamboo. The transformation in Sukhro’s life was a delight for everyone.


Our Commitment

We are committed to the cause of providing or optimising eye health to as many people in urban and or rural India. We have created programmes focused on various target audiences that gave us the optimum resources to help effectively. We have the Rural Eye Health Programme (REH), Urban Eye Health Programme (UEH), National School Eye Health Programme and National Truckers Eye Health Programme that reaches the hinterlands and those living on the fringes of modern-day society. 

Our Sightsavers team recognises the importance of eye health for the overworked truck driver community in ensuring traffic safety. Because drivers do not have access to eye care services, we have created a system that provides services directly to them. RAAHI is one of the country’s largest eye health programmes for the overworked truck driver community.

Rural Eye Health Programme (REH)

A large population of India still resides in villages. In most rural communities, eye health (if available) is limited to cataract screening, with limited or no attention given to other eye disorders. With the expansion of primary health under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), making primary eye care available to rural and remote areas will significantly improve the eye health of the community. Through the REH programme, we create awareness, provide quality eye health services, and eliminate avoidable blindness among the rural population.

Urban Eye Health Programme

Many people living in the urban pockets of Indian cities do not receive health, education, or livelihood assistance. We also operate in some metropolitan areas to ensure a comprehensive and sustainable eye health mechanism in the Indian urban slums. At the same time, we are working closely with the Ministry of Health and the National Urban Health Mission to create a system that provides access to quality eye health for the underprivileged in urban areas.

National School Eye Health Programme

We launched Vidyajyoti School Eye Health Programme to check and prevent eye diseases and vision impairments among children in the school-going age group in government schools. The programme consists of eight components: (i) health education, (ii) health services, (iii) nutrition services, (iv) counselling, (v) a healthy school environment, (vi) staff health promotion, (vii) family/community involvement, and (viii) research or impact assessment. 

Soni the Maths Wizard
Eight-year-old Soni resides in the Jehanabad district of Bihar. Soni was born blind. However, vision would not seem that important once you observe her enthusiasm for life. She studies in a residential girls’ secondary school run by the Government of India for the economically weaker sections in Bihar – one of the core states of Sightsavers. Under the Inclusive Education Programme, and with support from HCL, Sightsavers allocates all kinds of accessible devices required by children with visual impairment for educational, recreational and mobility purposes in government schools of Bihar.
Soni’s teachers appreciate the progress she has made over the past couple of years. Soni especially loves solving mathematical calculations. Maths, a subject often seen as dreary and challenging, and endured rather than enjoyed, is like child’s play for her. She solves mathematical questions with such ease that she looks like she is playing a simple game. Her teachers think she is smarter and wiser than children her age. She aspires to become a teacher and a source of inspiration for children with visual impairment.


National Truckers Eye Health Programme

Our Sightsavers team recognises the importance of eye health for the overworked truck driver community in ensuring traffic safety. Because drivers do not have access to eye care services, we have created a system that provides services directly to them. RAAHI is one of the country’s largest eye health programmes for the overworked truck driver community. The uniqueness of this programme is that there are more than 30 locations around India’s Golden Quadrilateral, covering the most important long-haul routes in the country. There are permanent vision centres and pop-up outreach camps; located where drivers can rest and unload their cargo on regular routes.

Social Inclusion 

To enable the social inclusion of people with disabilities, we focus on three core areas: economic empowerment, strengthening Organisations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs), and creating an enabling environment. We thus support people with disability through livelihood interventions and facilitates the formation and capacity building of DPOs to carry out effective advocacy for their rights on all platforms and levels.

We work to ensure that people with disabilities (blindness or visual impairment) get equal rights and face no discrimination, especially regarding education, healthcare and income. We also ensure that the government implements its obligations under international Conventions toward the visually impaired or blind.

Inclusive Education

When children with disabilities participate in mainstream education on an equal basis with other children, they learn that they are equal and valued members of society. Thus, we aim to promote a positive and enabling environment in schools, families and in communities to support the holistic education of children with visual impairment.

Enablement is facilitated by the availability of assistive devices and accessible educational material, provision of compensatory skills training, infrastructure accessibility and building education management and leadership, among others.

Neeta the Leader
Neeta is irreversibly blind. She lives in the Hoshangabad district of Madhya Pradesh. She lost her vision when she met with an accident when she was ten years old. She dropped out of school and became dependent on her family members, with very little social interaction with the outside world.
We selected and enrolled her on our rehabilitation project. She learned daily living skills. This helped improve her orientation and mobility skills, restored her lost confidence and motivated her to receive training in managing the family grocery store and become even more independent. We saw her eagerness and enthusiasm to learn, so we nurtured it. This has helped develop her leadership skills. She took an active interest and became part of a Disabled People’s Organisation, of which she is now the Vice-President.
Neeta’s transformation from an introverted, homebound blind young girl to a spokesperson for people with disabilities is truly inspirational.

 

Impact 
55 million people examined for eye problems since 1966                 
36.4 million eye treatments provided, including spectacles and medication
5 million operations performed to treat conditions such as cataract


A Better Tomorrow

Our goal is to work for a better tomorrow and create an equitable world. Sightsavers India will continue to serve millions of people in the coming years and enable their lives by building an inclusive world.

RN Mohanty is the CEO of Sightsavers India.