Yesterday was World Sight Day and our cartoonist Awantha Artigala showed that a picture or a cartoon is more effective than a thousand words. In brilliant imagery and symbolism he portrayed the crisis in Sri Lanka where the statue of justice— a blindfolded lady holding the scales evenly was being led by a blind politician with white cane. Our sister newspaper the Ada carried this cartoon which told the story of how the independence of the judiciary—time-honoured and time-tested as one of the four vital pillars of democracy—has been undermined with morally and spiritually blind politicians leading the statue of justice down the unjust path of self-centred party politics.
While the people need to deeply reflect on the breakdown in the rule of law and the unseating of the seats of justice, the Health Ministry charity unit Vision 2020 held a World Sight Day walk and a media conference to outline its vision and goal of restoring the sight of thousands of people who may be going blind because they are poor. This also is a blinding injustice. According to an article in the Daily Mirror last week, cataract is responsible for about 51% of world blindness. This represents about 20 million people, the World Health Organisation said. Cataract is the leading cause of reversible blindness and visual impairment worldwide.
Vision 2020 is the global initiative for the elimination of avoidable blindness. It was launched in 1999, jointly by the WHO and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) with an international membership of NGOs, professional associations, eye care institutions and corporations. VISION 2020 hopes to give all people in the world, particularly the millions of needlessly blind, the right to sight. In Sri Lanka with a population of about 21 million people, surveys have shown that about 150,000 people are blind. Another 400,000 have impaired vision, a majority of the people are blind due to cataract.
The Vision 2020 programme has three main elements where the first one is infrastructure development which aims to develop the eye units such as eye clinics and eye wards: the second is human resource development where people involved in health care such as eye surgeons, optometrists and eye technicians are trained. In addition to that, teachers who are involved in community and school work on eye care too are given training, so that they can go back to their workplaces and identify people with blindness or reduced vision and attend to their needs in a professional manner. The third is disease control. This is aimed at working on five blinding-eye diseases namely cataract, diabetes retinopathy, glaucoma, refractive errors and low vision and childhood blindness.
According to the visionary eye surgeon, Dr. Asela Abeydeera, Programme Coordinator of Vision 2020 Sri Lanka, a cataract operation requires a lens which is expensive and in some private hospitals patients have to pay up to Rs 25,000 for it. Tens of thousands of poor people cannot afford this and therefore are in danger of going blind. Vision 2020 Sri Lanka gives lenses free of charge to poor patients. However the need for such free lenses is growing and Vision 2020 Sri Lanka is running out of funds.
So it launched a fund-raising project yesterday, World Sight Day with the theme being prevention of blindness due to cataract. For details call 0112693744. Dr. Abeydeera said yesterday that if any well-wisher or caring person was ready to give up something non-essential and give a donation of Rs. 3500, Vision 2020 could give sight to one blind person. If there are 20,000 such well-wishers, then the vision of 20,000 people could be restored.
According to Dr. Jayantha Bandara, National Organizer of Senaka Bibile Commemorative Association, there is a cataract mafia that is selling lenses at between Rs. 20,000 and Rs. 30,000 while Vision 2020 buys a good quality lens and other surgical equipments for only Rs. 3,500 and gives it free to poor people. Without a lot of rhetoric which is an eyesore, the government should act against this cataract mafia to prevent thousands of Sri Lankans from going blind.