Spectacles for Every Indian – Making it a Reality

Spectacles for Every Indian - Making it a Reality

Uncorrected Refractive Error is a major cause of avoidable vision impairment and remains one of the largest public health challenges in the world. In India, millions of people are estimated to suffer from this. Visual impairment caused by the issue is preventable or treatable, usually through a simple pair of glasses. Giving spectacles to every Indian who needs them will be a big-impact health intervention with the potential to improve the quality of life for millions of Indians.

Panelists at the India Vision Institute (IVI)-VisionPlus Magazine hosted ‘Spectacles for Every Indian - Making it a Reality’ panel discussion on March 22 shared their knowledge and ideas in a thought-provoking and stimulating discussion that covered numerous aspects, including accessibility, affordability, awareness, the need for advocacy to encourage government intervention, and the way forward to ensure that every Indian who needs a pair of spectacles will have it. Moderated by Vinod Daniel, the panel at the discussion comprised Dr Rohit C Khanna, Director, Gullapalli Pratibha Rao International Centre for Advancement of Rural Eyecare (GPR ICARE), Prof Monica Chaudhry, Contact Lens and Low Vision Specialist; Retired Senior Optometrist, AIIMS; Ex-Director, School of Health Sciences, Ansal University, Anshu Taneja, Country Director, India, VisionSpring, and Milind Jadhav, Senior Director, Inclusive Business & Philanthropy (South Asia), Essilor.

Making the introduction and leading the discussion, Mr Daniel said that over 650 million people globally live with visual impairment due to uncorrected refractive error and that it is a significant public health issue in India as well. He invited the panelists to outline their vision on how India can ensure that every Indian with uncorrected refractive error gets a pair of spectacles by 2050. “A multi-sector, multi-stakeholder approach is required. The government, healthcare organisations, multilateral organisations, the NGO sector, and all of us have to work together to reach this goal,” said Milind Jadhav. A silo-based approach or an effort by a single organisation would be insufficient to achieve the goal of a pair of spectacles for every Indian. Collective actions and broad partnerships can generate the scale and impact needed to transform the vision health landscape in India.

Improving the quality of services available to the consumer will require enhanced skill sets. “In remote areas, a good optical shop should hire at least a diploma-holder, if there is a lack of qualified personnel available in such areas. Networks of facilities dispensing eyecare services should be established throughout the country and people should be made aware of the eye hospitals or vision care centres that are available in their vicinity,” Prof Monica Chaudhry suggested. Creating awareness will play a critical role. The level of public awareness that exists regarding healthcare facilities covered under Ayushman Bharat is indicative of the fact that a large-scale government-backed program to promote vision health can create the necessary awareness. When flagship vision health schemes are announced by the government, the public will be incentivized and encouraged to voluntarily seek vision health solutions from quality vision health facilities. Underscoring the need to try new ways of building social awareness, Prof Chaudhry suggested focusing on school children. Children have impressionable minds and inculcating in them, at an early age, an understanding of the importance of vision health can be a far more effective tool of public awareness generation than trying to teach adults, who may already have prejudices and preconceived notions about spectacles and vision health.

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Highlighting the difference between vaccination drives and a campaign to promote the use of spectacles, Dr Rohit C Khanna stressed the need for a sustained effort that is backed by a large-scale and multi-sectoral push towards ensuring that every Indian who needs a pair of spectacles gets one. “We should look at the possibility of introducing a policy that aims to have every school-going child vision screened. Many developed countries have a policy of mandatory screening for school children and this is a policy that India must look at,” Dr Khanna added.

Sustained progress in delivering spectacles to those in need can only be achieved through the creation of strong service delivery structures and mechanisms. “We need to put systems in place for sustainable progress because uncorrected refractive error cannot be eradicated like Polio. It should be mandatory for school students, people working in offices to get their eyes screened annually. For groups such as truckers, the mandatory eye examination required to be carried out whenever driving licenses come up for renewal should be enforced well. Regular eye screenings have to become a sustainably implemented practice across walks of life,” Anshu Taneja said.

Vinod Daniel noted that in many countries, one can go to a cornerstore, get a pair of reading glasses and wear them without having to go through a comprehensive eye examination. Restaurants in many countries will give you a pair of glasses to help you read the menu. Mr Daniel asked the panelists whether a similar model can be implemented in India. Mr Taneja answered in the affirmative, observing that reading glasses become a part of a person’s life once he or she is introduced to them. Having access to reading glasses can show people the advantages a pair of spectacles brings. Those introduced to spectacles by way of reading glasses may choose to opt for comprehensive eye examinations in order to get prescribed glasses that are permanently available at their disposal.

In India, the shortage of optometrists constrains access to spectacles. This can be addressed by giving people reading glasses. Easy access to reading glasses can help in spreading awareness about spectacles more effectively than many awareness campaigns.

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