India is home to almost 35 million people suffering from Visual disorders. Almost 80% of these are avoidable or curable and yet a very large population continue to live with these disorders and many of them go blind for want of accessible and affordable treatment. Rural India suffers from the absence of access to qualitative and affordable eye care.
Over the years, organizations like Sankara Eye Hospital, Pammal, have facilitated access to eye care through our Rural Outreach programme where we conduct screening camps in villages where people could be screened. Almost invariably, these camps are focused towards identifying Cataract and to an extent, refractive errors. The latter requires spectacles to be given which is also done at these camps
Challenges in the Outreach Approach
Rural outreach programs have certainly helped in addressing avoidable blindness due to Cataract and our Hospitals have carried out over 300000 vision restoration surgeries screening well over 15 million people. However, these Camps suffer from a few handicaps.
Shortcomings identified in current model of outreach
- Limited to identification of Cataract and Refractive errors
- Screening for other eye ailments is not feasible
- Inflexibility in dates for patients
As per research, only 10% of people with eye ailments come to outreach camps
Primary reasons for living with curable eye disorders and avoiding eye care
- Lack of access to affordable eye care
- Learnt to live with low vision
- People who have had one eye operated unwilling to get second eye done thus living with hyper mature cataracts
Vision Centres as Solutions
In order to offer an on-demand service for comprehensive eye screening which is accessible, setting up Vision Centres in areas where we had been conducting screening camps for many years would bring greater value to the population. 15 Vision Centres have been setup which are fully equipped with all facilities for comprehensive eye screening. The Centres are connected with the Base Hospital through tele-ophthalmology so that Consultation with an Ophthalmologist for eye ailments is possible. At a first level, identification of visual disorders is now possible from the Vision Centre and where treatment involves eye drops or medication, these are also dispensed at the VC itself. If the ailment requires more detailed investigation or intervention, the patient can is referred to the Hospital.
In order to identify the extent of visual disorders in the community, each Vision Centre has one Field worker equipped with a Tab and trained to carry out very rudimentary screening using a Snellen chart. This person goes to every village and visits every household to enumerate the members and document the persons needing eye care and advise such people to visit the Vision Centre. He also distributes awareness material on curable eye problems. An analysis of the data in the Tab will facilitate planning interventions to address the issues which could be in the form of special camps or a special drive to motivate people to visit the VCs
In addition, a number of four-wheelers are being modified with a 55” TV which will visit villages with a team which will play awareness videos created in the form of street plays, skits etc on the TV and also deliver awareness lectures on the importance of eye care and timely treatment.
People needing treatment or investigations which cannot be done at the VC will be brought to the base hospital on scheduled days of the month through our buses and returned to the pickup point after the treatment
As of September 2021, there are 16 Vision Centres operational under Pammal and 4 Vision Centres under Samarjhola. The plan is have a total of 43 Vision Centres under Pammal and six under Samarjhola by end of 2022.