Address by Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu, Honourable Vice President of India at the OSKON 2018 (Ocular Surface and Keratoprosthesis Conference), organised by Sankara Netralaya, in Chennai on July 29, 2018.

Chennai | July 29, 2018

“At the outset I wish to express my sincere thanks to Dr S.S. Badrinath, Founder and Chairman Emeritus, Sankara Nethralaya and the members of the organizing committee for inviting me to this highly prestigious academic event.

To me, the state of Tamil Nadu and the city of Chennai have always stood apart as a confluence of purposeful intellectualism and constructive thought leadership. No wonder it has produced some of the sharpest minds in the country and not just that, these people have also contributed significantly in improving the lot of society.

Sankara Nethralaya is undoubtedly among the foremost institutions which are the training and nurturing grounds for such minds. And the founder Dr S S Badrinath is a living example of what a doctor, teacher and mentor should be. As a dedicated facility, Sankara Nethralaya has few parallels in research and clinical services.

I must commend Dr S.S. Badrinath and Sankara Nethralya for the unswerving passion and commitment to eradicate blindness. I am told that Sankara Nethralya is built on a self-sustaining model where revenue accruing from patients who are able to pay, takes care of the operational costs and is partly utilized to serve the poor with free care. The revenue generated through donations and grants supports research and expansion projects.

I once again congratulate Sankara Nethralaya for its pioneering and trailblazing role in the fields of optometry, neuro-ophthalmology, paediatric-ophthalmology, ophthalmic anaesthesia among others, earning it its rightful pride of place in the national and international arena.

Sisters and brothers, cataract, glaucoma and diabetes remain the leading cause for treatable blindness across the globe and in our country too.

According to the National Programme for Control of Blindness (NPCB), the main cause of blindness include cataract (62.6%) refractive error (19.70%) corneal blindness (0.90%) and glaucoma (5.80%), among others. Since 80-90 per cent blindness is avoidable, we need to increase eye care facilities to treat cataract, glaucoma and other ophthalmological problems. Blindness from glaucoma can be prevented if diagnosed and treated early.

No doubt, the Union Government and various State Governments as also the private sector are working shoulder-to-shoulder to reduce blindness through comprehensive eye care services. The need of the hour is to ensure that these services are available in rural areas, particularly the remote parts of the country.

From time to time, medical and surgical camps are being conducted all over the country. I am happy that a unique idea such as the Mobile Eye Surgical Unit called MESU, a brain child of Dr Badrinath has been implemented in partnership with IIT Madras, to take the operation theatre to the doorstep of remote rural India. This concept should be replicated in other parts of the country and private eye care services should take a lead in this regard.

Treatment of corneal blindness, which is another important cause for visual loss, has seen advancement by leaps and bounds over the last decade. Eye donation, a most noble act after death, can alleviate blindness and restore vision in those with corneal blindness.

And among these, I understand, are a specific group of conditions that are termed as ocular surface disorders. With a spectrum ranging from dry eye to diseases that cause blindness, I am told that the thrust of the ISKON meeting is on artificial corneal transplants which are performed with the donated eyes.

I am aware that enormous research is being done worldwide to address the issue of corneal blindness which accounts for the majority of blindness the world over.

It is unfortunate that chemical injuries to the eye form an important cause of severe corneal blindness. It is quite painful to know that lot of freak accidents with the chunnambu that we take with vettalai or pan is such a devastating cause of blindness, most of the innocent victims being school going children, for whom their entire future becomes a question mark.

With the support of the State Governments as well as the Central Government, ensuring the safety of our country’s children should be our utmost priority and all measures will have to be taken to ensure safer packaging of the chunambu. There is a need to take up promotional campaigns in every nook and corner of the country to make sure that chuna is no longer packed in flimsy polythene packets.

People also need to be educated on safety measures while handling hazardous substances at workplaces and in homes-- for instance, the handling of common household items like chunam and cleaning acid. This is even more critical in India because many of these accidents happen in economically weaker households. The choice is between these precautions and a lifetime of blindness.

Also, the psycho-socio-economic burden is unimaginable as also the burden on the ophthalmic fraternity in rehabilitation which I am given to understand is enormous with the need for multiple ocular surgeries. Worse still is the social stigma – which is even more horrendous when these youngsters have endured the ordeal of vitriolage (acid attack), the cruellest crime that can be committed. I salute the bravery of the girls and boys who have decided to fight against all odds. The advancements in technology have made it possible to give them back some semblance of normalcy.

Seminars and conferences like OSKON-2018 provide an ideal opportunity for experts to come together, exchange their experiences and views. I am glad that many international and national specialists in the field are participating in this meet to find solutions and move towards healthy and happy world.

I once again thank the organizers for the opportunity and wish OSKON-2018 all success.