“Compared to one for every 15,000 population in the US, India has only one ophthalmologist for a population of 2,15,000 when every third blind person in the world is an Indian,” said S S Badrinath, world-famous ophthalmologist and founder of iconic Sankara Nethralaya of Chennai, adding: “We have done a lot to eradicate blindness in the country but that’s apparently not enough.”
Badrinath, awarded Padma Bhushan for his life-time work in the field of eye health, was in Nagpur on Saturday to inaugurate an eye hospital run by one of his disciples Prashant Bawankule.
Talking to The Indian Express, he said: “We have done a lot to reduce blindness by bringing down the percentage of blindness caused by cataract — the single biggest cause — from 85 in the fifties of the last century to 58 as on today, thanks to an excellent prevention programme. But that’s not enough as 15 million of the world’s 45 million visually-challenged people are still from India.”
According to him, the top five eye-related problems in India are cataract (responsible for 58 per cent of the blindness cases), undetected refractive error, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and corneal opacity.
Asked if India lacks facilities, Badrinath said: “That’s one reason. In terms of technology, we do have the best ones available. But we need to do more screening programmes to check the prevalence of eye problems like cataract and undetected refractive error, which generally go unnoticed due to lack of awareness, especially in rural areas.”
Asked how rural population would be able to tide over the problem since they lack sophisticated treatment facilities, Badrinath said: “One of the ways is to send more mobile hospitals to the hinterlands as part of a proactive campaign. Of course, we also need to upgrade facilities at government hospitals. Some have done that in a bid to get the tough accreditation from the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Healthcare Providers. We need to encourage more government hospitals to get that accreditation.”
About the effect of changing lifestyle on eye health, Badrinath said: “It does affect the eyes since rising number of diabetes cases are also attributed to lifestyle changes. Diabetic retinopathy is a condition of the eye caused by diabetes and can lead to blindness. That’s why eye is said to be window to general health. It is often during eye check-up that many systemic problems life diabetes get detected.”
About children’s eye health, with many having to start wearing glasses very early, Badrinath said: “It seems to be rising but actually it is not so. Growing awareness has led to children getting spectacles early on in life. Earlier, parents didn’t have so much of awareness. So, children wouldn’t be screened…”
Asked if excessive use of computers and mobiles is taking a toll on their eye health, Badrinath said: “Not really. (But) Of course, there are certain precautions to be observed.”