oday is World Sight Day. According to the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), which coordinates this campaign with the World Health Organisation (WHO), this annual day of awareness is held on the second Thursday of October to focus global attention on blindness and vision impairment. This year is the third year of the WHO’s Global Action Plan and IAPB encourages its members and partners to continue with their rolling theme, ‘Universal Eye Health’. The theme for this year is ‘Eye care for all’. World Sight Day is coordinated by IAPB under the Vision 2020 Global Initiative. On World Sight Day, IAPB members work together to raise public awareness of blindness and vision impairment as major international public health issues, influence Governments or Ministers of Health to participate in and allocate funds for national blindness-prevention programmes and educate target audiences about blindness-prevention, about VISION 2020 and to generate support for VISION 2020 programme activities.
In Sri Lanka, the Health Ministry-based Vision 2020 Secretariat for the past eight years has been working with commitment and dedication to prevent blindness, especially among the poor or the needy people. Sri Lanka’s Vision 2020 Secretariat works on the theme, ‘Sight for life’. To mark World Sight Day, it has appealed to individuals, corporate organisations, NGOs and charity funds to help prevent avoidable blindness through increased access to proper healthcare and free surgical operations for tens of thousands of people known to be suffering from cataract.
Vision 2020, coordinated by the visionary eye surgeon Dr. Asela Abeydeera, says 80% of blindness in Sri Lanka is avoidable. Most of those who can afford it, avoid it. But there are those who simply don’t know blindness is avoidable, or even if they do know they cannot afford the cost involved or they have trouble accessing hospitals. The Vision 2020 programme carries out mobile clinics and operations, targeting those who cannot afford or do not have access to eye care.
There have been times when more than 100 cataract operations were carried out in one location in a day. But, Vision 2020 says there are challenges. About 200,000 operations need to be carried out every year to clear the backlog of cataract operations in Sri Lanka within five years. The Vision 2020 team says its biggest challenge is mobility, transporting its equipment and professionals to under-served areas. The solution is a fully-equipped Mobile Eye Care Unit which will carry all the equipment and serve as the indoor space of a clinic. Vision 2020 says it needs US$350,000 or nearly Rs.50 million for this Mobile Eye Clinic. Last Sunday, Vision 2020 launched its fund-raising programme with a concert titled ‘Colours of the Blind’. The Chief Guest was President Maithripala Sirisena, a former Health Minister, who pledged full support for the Sight for Life programme. Tickets for this concert, held at the Kularatne Hall in Ananda College, were priced at Rs.5,500, the cost of one cataract lens and its attachments. So anyone who bought a ticket would be helping to prevent one poor person from going blind. The hall was packed and that means a lot. The amount raised from the concert was an enlightened Rs.2 million.
Today, Sri Lanka’s Vision 2020 Secretariat will conduct a street drama and an awareness programme opposite the Fort Railway Station. This will be based on the objectives of the Sight for Life programme. Next month there will be a ‘Walk for Sight’ across Sri Lanka from the East Coast to the West – 330 kilometres. During this walk, eye healthcare camps will be held at three remote locations along the trail. There will also be a Bicycle Parade ‘Ride for Sight’ on a route covering some of the premier zones in Colombo City.
Even in public hospital eye clinics, patients have to pay more than Rs.20,000 for each cataract lens. Most poor people suffering from cataract cannot afford this and so they eventually become blind. In private hospitals a cataract operation costs more than Rs.40,000. Healthcare activists say firms importing cataract lenses are making a huge, unjust and unethical profit. We hope that with the success of the Vision 2020 Action Plan, thousands of needy people will be able to protect the priceless treasure of their eyes while this vision will inspire even importing firms to come to the awareness that we need to restore a health service where the well-being of the patients is given top priority.