Published: Sunday 31 October 1999


Among the most serious disorders that can affect human beings, blindness is considered the most feared. Possibly even more than death! Yet millions of people have allowed vision loss to creep upon them without a fight.

Today, there are over 40 million visually-impaired people in the world, of whom nearly 12 million are in India alone -- nearly one-tenth of the blind people in the world. And this number is increasing at an alarming rate of 2.5 million every year. Worse still, 80 per cent of them suffer from preventable blindness and the rest from blindness that is curable if treated early enough.

The enormity of the problem of blindness in India can hardly be reflected in cold statistics. To tackle this problem, a sustained, committed and well-defined strategy on a mammoth plane was needed. But the steps taken by the government in combating this problem have been woefully inadequate. Against this backdrop, the Lions Club International ( lci ), a charitable voluntary organisation which is fighting blindness at a global level, decided to rise to the occasion by embarking on its ambitious SightFirst programme.

The objectives of SightFirst are to reverse the incidence of preventable blindness and provide quality delivery systems to reduce the number of individuals suffering from blindness needlessly. Since 1992-93, lci has released more than us $ 3.3 million for various projects. Besides, it has plans to launch a Rs 7-crore Lions Kankurgachi Nethralaya and Research Institute in Calcutta.

Today, there are over 23 Lions hospitals supporting such projects across the country. Notable among them are the Lions Karnavati Shantaben Vishnu Patel Eye Hospital in Ahmedabad, K G Eye Hospital in Coimbatore and Lions Aravind Institute of Community Ophthalmo-logy in Madurai, where members of the SightFirst hospitals are sent on a six-week training programme in eye hospital management.

jaya ramesh

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