So, a vision screening campaign in schools is the first stage for bringing about improvement in the state of the eyecare improvement, says J P Singh, managing director of Bausch and Lomb. The company spends about 1 to 2 per cent of its turnover (Rs 60-70 crore) on the social initiatives.
Says Mr Singh, In 2000 for the first time we commissioned a study in seven cities of the country to get a general idea of the state of eyecare. The study brought to light the facts given above. Lack of awareness, according to the study, was the main reason for the appalling state of eyecare in the country.
Bausch and Lomb along with VIEW (Vision Experts Improvement Working Council), which is an active NGO comprising 14 leading eyecare professionals, holds the vision screening campaigns in schools across the country.
This year, till December, their target is 550 schools and 3 lakh students.
Explains Mr Singh, It is a two-pronged effort, beginning with trying to create an awareness in eyecare and then going on to increase the practitioner base. There is a need for 40,000 practitioners in India.
Under this programme eyecare professionals go from school to school to conduct vision screening tests on children between 7 and 16 years. So far the programmes have covered about three lakh children in 100 cities.
And the focus is not on a particular segment of schools. An assortment of schools, including private, public and government schools, is covered under this campaign.
Says Dr Vinay Aggarwal, an optometrist, who is a member of VIEW, The way it is done is that a team consisting of local opticians go to various schools with their equipment and give a vision report to the teachers to be sent to their parents.
Adds Dr Aggarwal, At this point of time, it is screening. In the future it could be even giving vision correction devices like spectacles and lenses.
The programme also involves training teachers on how to test the vision of their students with vision testing charts.
The first screening campaign was in 2001, when the vision awareness was abysmally low. In 2002, the campaign, which involves two lakh students in 40 cities, has revealed startling findings already, including percentage of school children unaware of their vision defects: 46 per cent. The figures vary for different statesDelhi (50 per cent), Mumbai (35 per cent), Lucknow (66 per cent), Hyderabad (56 per cent), Bangalore (60 per cent), and Gujarat (36 per cent).
Each year, results of the Bausch and Lomb-View screening campaigns are compiled into the Youth Vision India Report Series. The reports are submitted to the central and state governments, offering them data to base their eyecare strategies on.
Says Mr Singh, It seems like the initiatives are paying off. The fact that these initiatives are making an impact is clear from the stabilisation of numbers from our data over the year. At the same time the numbers continue to reflect dangerously low state of vision care awareness among the youth, an issue that must be tackled by individuals, corporates and the government alike.
Adds Dr Mahipal S Sachdev, a member of VIEW, We would like to create an awareness amongst all ages and segments of the society towards vision care and make eyecare a priority health issue.