India’s large populace requires ophthalmic care. But the question is, does it have enough human resource to address this need? Despite major advances in affordable technology and innovative models of eye health care delivery, blindness is still a major public health issue in India due to avoidable causes such as cataract and refractive errors. On one hand, there are high volume centres of excellence located in select few locations that can provide state of the art care to all (that can reach these centres) and on the other, there are a vast majority of rural and semi-urban districts that starve of any health care at all.
With a growing middle class, and increased access to eye-care services the demand for ophthalmologists is also rapidly increasing. Cataract surgeries are often offered for free via various government programs in the country to the section that falls short of financial aid. With the support of government and local innovation has produced rapid improvements in eye care in India. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), without major intervention, the number of blind people worldwide is projected to increase to 76 million by the year 2020. Thus, whether your vision isn’t what it used to be, the importance of annual eye exams goes well beyond just making sure one’s vision isn’t blurry.
As per official statistics, there are about 18,000 ophthalmologists in the country. Although the WHO recommends a population to ophthalmologist ratio of 1:100,000, in India the distribution varies from 1:25,000 in some urban pockets to 1: 250,000 and below in others. Inadequate facilities and lack of access are adversely affecting eye care in India. There is a growing need for increasing access and raising awareness among the masses to get their eyes checked at regular intervals, the absence of which will lead to immediate and long-term consequences.
Eye diseases often go neglected in India. They are amongst the most casually overlooked medical problems when it comes to the healthcare scenario in our country. A lot of this is because the only cure to eye problems is considered as wearing glasses, which is not actually always the case. Not a lot of people acknowledge the fact that eye problems can also be chronic or even have dire consequences in extreme cases like cancer.
Most people have eye problems at one time or another. Some are minor and aid on their own, or are easy to tend to. However, some are chronic or, need special medical treatment. For instance, low vision and blindness have dire effects on individuals, families, and communities. What is worse is that 75% blindness is preventable something to which many don’t pay much heed. There are a number of reasons that can be listed when it comes to why one must get their eyes checked on a regular basis. To name a few are the growing cases of myopia, glaucoma, retinal disorders, and so on. Most people who have myopia do not experience early symptoms or pain. So it’s important to keep up with your regular eye exams.
To set up eye care camps and implement awareness drives on eye care in India, we first need to ensure the availability of the required workforce, i.e. ophthalmologists. Incentivizing working in rural parts of India for ophthalmologists is likely to be a step in the right direction. To address the gap of shortage of ophthalmologists in rural areas, Sightsavers has come up with a first-of-its-kind India Fellowship Program offering them a promising career opportunity. The Sightsavers India Fellowship is an opportunity for passionate young ophthalmologists to get trained at some of the leading eye health institutes in India. Alongside, the fellows will get a chance to apply these skills and knowledge in a real-world scenario while being placed under Sightsavers India Eye Health Programme. By curing and preventing eye fatalities, our country will have a more efficient and healthier workforce contributing to the overall growth of the economy.
RN Mohanty is the CEO of Sightsavers India. Mr Mohanty is well known and honoured by his associates and peers for his futuristic decision-making capacity and a good sense of judgment, essential for a leader at the helm of affairs. Over the years, he has had experience of working on diverse issues like the environment, health, nutrition, HIV/AIDS, livelihood, education, disability and eye health.
Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.