"It gives me immense pleasure to be here at the inaugural function of the 32nd Intraocular Implant and Refractive Surgery Convention. This Convention being attended by doctors from India and other countries creates a platform for interaction in respect to development of new diagnostic and treatment modalities in Ophthalmology. I am sure, the learned participants will benefit from the deliberations of this Convention.
The importance of having a good vision cannot be over-emphasised. We often hear about the expression ‘Eyes are the windows to the soul’. A good vision is vital to see the world around us. Therefore, there is importance of having good treatment facilities for those who are suffering from vision ailments. The global estimates in this regard reveal that there are 36 million people who are blind. Further, 217 million people live with severe or moderate visual impairment. In total, 253 million people are living with visual impairment of one kind or the other. It is also estimated that 1.1 billion people have near-vision impairment. In the context of India, the estimate shows that by the year 2020 there will be approximate 8.25 million population having cataract.
We all know that India has witnessed a transformation in eye treatment and care over the past decades. In the 1950s, ophthalmology basically meant a torch examination, cataract and glaucoma surgery, and mass treatment of trachoma and associated conjunctivitis. There were few ophthalmic surgeons, limited ophthalmic beds and operating facilities in the hospitals. But today, we have made great strides in building reasonably good eye care facilities and developing state-of-the-art diagnostics in the specialised treatment of various kinds of eye ailments. The growth of super-specialty eye hospitals across the country more so in South India testifies to the developments in the eye care sector. No doubt, today patients have access to quality eye care. But given the sheer size of disease burden, the facilities are still deficient.
Through the National Programme for Control of Blindness (NPCB), a premier Central Government programme, the Government has been making constant efforts since 1976 to reduce the prevalence of blindness in the country. It has set the goal of reducing the prevalence of blindness to 0.3 per cent by the year 2020. As per the NPCB data, cataract continues to be one of the leading causes of blindness in India. Nearly 63 per cent of people are blind due to cataract. Similarly, around 20 per cent of people are blind due to refractive error. Another major area of concern is ‘Diabetic Retinopathy’. It is the most well-known ocular complication of diabetes and the leading cause of blindness among people between 20–64 years. It is no secret that eye ailment is a major problem among the young children. We feel pity to see young school-going children wearing spectacles. There used to be an impression that perhaps the urban school children are more prone to eye ailments. But now even in the rural schools, we do find children suffering from myopia. Excessive exposure of children to video games, mobiles, computers, televisions has been adversely impacting their eye health. Moreover, India has become the diabetes capital of the world with as many as 50 million people suffering from type-2 diabetes. We can well imagine the multiple challenges before the ophthalmologists.
In India, the lack of availability of trained health personnel to meet the growing disease burden of a burgeoning population has been a major issue. But in the eye care sector, the problem is of a different kind. According to the NPCB, the services of available ophthalmic surgeons in the country are not being adequately utilised. Many ophthalmologists are purely working in administrative jobs and similar proportion is posted at peripheral units with no ophthalmic equipments. This needs to be addressed urgently.
The Government has, no doubt, drawn a number of strategies to ensure the effectiveness of the NPCB. I believe, given the challenges being faced by the eye care sector, the Central Government cannot alone do it. We need to involve the Panchayati Raj Institutions and urban local bodies besides enlisting the support and cooperation of the private sectors and NGOs to augment the efforts to provide comprehensive eye care services to the people. In all our efforts, needless to say that eye doctors and surgeons will play a very important role. We need to devise a multi-pronged strategy for strengthening the preventive and curative eye care. We also need to encourage people to voluntarily pledge eye donation. I am happy that NPCB has set a modest target of 50,000 eyes donation in the year 2017-18 and against this, we have achieved 69,343 eyes donation. This is certainly a very encouraging trend and we can set higher targets and achieve the same in the years ahead. In harvesting the donated eyes, preserving and implanting the same requires quality training of the doctors and other professionals. The sublime ethos of helping a vision impaired person to gain eyesight through voluntary eye donation must be inculcated among the young children in the schools. Mass media can play an important role in popularising eye donation.
Over the years, premier public sector medical institutes and hospitals, regional institutes of ophthalmology and several professional bodies of ophthalmologists such as Intraocular Implant and Refractive Society, India (IIRSI) have contributed significantly to the advancement of treatment of eye ailments. The interactive sessions organised by this Society have been enabling the ophthalmologists and other professionals to understand in-depth the problems being faced by the people and handle the complicated cases with skill and expertise.
It is regarding the availability of these advanced treatments to the public particularly the poor and the needy that we need to remain alive and sensitive. We all know that vast sections of people inhabiting the margins of our society in the rural areas are in the need of quality eye care. But they cannot afford the prohibitive cost of treatment being charged by private eye care hospitals. We, therefore, need to make our public sector eye care hospitals equipped with latest technologies for quality treatment.
The Government while making efforts for ensuring access and equity in public healthcare is also committed to provide some support mechanism in the form of health insurance for the poor and the vulnerable sections. I am happy that the present Government, under the dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has launched the National Health Protection Scheme, an ambitious health insurance scheme, for the benefit of the poor and the needy. The Government has proposed a budgetary allocation of Rs.54,667 crores for the current year. The current Budget has proposed schemes providing medical cover of up to Rs.5 lakh to over 10 crore poor and vulnerable families, constituting 40 per cent of India's total population. I am told the Union Health Ministry has already drawn up the details of the Scheme and this will be soon rolled out. No longer the poor people are going to suffer because of their financial constraints. Dear friends.
I am privileged to know the Secretary-General of IIRSI, Prof. Amar Agarwal. He has won several awards for his various inventions. We are all proud that his inventions – Glued IOL and PDEK techniques – are accepted and followed internationally by many surgeons. I congratulate him for his many achievements.
I am sure that this will be an encouragement to the young and upcoming generation in the medical profession to engage themselves in these activities more often and improve their knowledge and skills. These exposures will make them ready for rendering their best service to the nation.
Friends, the WHO has come out with a ‘Vision 2020’ to rid the world of avoidable blindness and visual impairment. Against this goal, we all can make assessment as to where India stands. The task before our ophthalmologists is fairly cut out.
With these words, I wish the organizers and participants of this Convention a great success.
Thank you. Jai Hind!"