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Year : 2007  |  Volume : 55  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 91-93

Removal of avoidable blindness, our mission

The Honorable President of India

Correspondence Address:
APJ Abdul Kalam
The Honorable President of India

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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0301-4738.30700

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How to cite this article:
Kalam AA. Removal of avoidable blindness, our mission. Indian J Ophthalmol 2007;55:91-3

How to cite this URL:
Kalam AA. Removal of avoidable blindness, our mission. Indian J Ophthalmol [serial online] 2007 [cited 2019 Dec 6];55:91-3. Available from:

Delivered at 65th annual meeting of the All India Ophthalmological Society, Hyderabad, 1st February 2007

"Knowledge makes you great"

I am delighted to participate in the inauguration of the 65th annual meeting of the All India Ophthalmological Society (AIOS) and interact with the Indian ophthalmic trade leadership and national and international non-government organizations (NGOs). I extend my greetings to the organizers, ophthalmologists, optometrists, medical social workers, medical technologists and distinguished guests. Through the participants of this conference, let me greet all the 12,000 members of AIOS.

I know that apart from annual meetings, the society publishes a peer-reviewed and indexed journal and encourages young ophthalmologists by various travel fellowships and awards through its academic and research wing. I have read the Indian Journal of Ophthalmology published by AIOS which has done an excellent job and has become an important component of all the ophthalmologists. During the last 77 years, the society has made a significant contribution to eye care missions of the nation. I congratulate all of you for this important societal mission. I would like to discuss the topic "Removal of avoidable blindness, our mission".

  My Experience with the Ophthalmologic Community Top

During the last four years, I have had an important experience in the Indian Ophthalmic area. I inaugurated the Aravind Eye Hospital in Pondicherry in the year 2003 in the presence of Dr. G. Venkataswamy. This hospital caters to the needs of about 1,500 patients per day with 600 beds for free patients and 150 beds for paid patients. This gave me an insight into how the Aravind eye hospital culture of treatment and management of eye care is spreading.

On 14th August 2004, I participated in the 52nd Tamil Nadu State ophthalmic conference through multimedia teleconferencing from the Rashtrapati Bhavan studio which focused on prevention of blindness and eye care. Later, I visited Sri Sadguru Seva Sangh Trust, Chitrakoot on 6th October 2005. This Trust had conducted over 50,000 cataract operations in rural areas of Chitrakoot. Again in October 2005, I participated in the World Sight Day proceedings organized by the "Vision 2020: The Right to Sight" program at Hyderabad. This conference focused on "sight for kids" and "diabetic retinopathy".

In July 2006, I participated in the inauguration of the Bhubaneswar Eye Institute (BEl) which is providing specialized eye care to the needy in Orissa region. BEl has brought out an important culture of establishing a high-tech institute within a year and making it self-sustaining including provision for a certain percentage of free treatment to the needy within the next six months. Recently, in December 2006, I participated in the South-East Asia Glaucoma Interest Group conference which is carrying out focused research on glaucoma. Also, in December 2006 I participated in the laying of the foundation stone for the Dr. G. Venkataswamy Eye Research Institute in Madurai which will focus on research on retinopathy. Also, I participated in the launch of the Antonio Champalimaud Science Award for supporting translational research that directly impacts the vision and alleviation of blindness. In addition, I have been meeting a number of ophthalmologists from India and abroad who have apprised me of various actions taken by different specialists in various parts of the country to provide quality eye care to the needy, particularly in the rural areas.

  Capacity-Building in Eye Care Top

India has great strengths in the eye care field. We have nearly 15,000 ophthalmologists spread over different parts of the country. Our eye care community has successfully reduced some of the common blindness problems during the last two decades. The cataract blindness has reduced from 80% to 47% and the refractive error-related blindness has reduced from 20% to 7%.

With the effort of Indian ophthalmologists, the cataract surgical rate has more than quadrupled from 1.19 to 4.8 million cataract surgeries annually in the last two decades. The Indian ophthalmologists must be congratulated for all these great achievements. Let us look more closely at these statistics and analyze the facts vis--vis our 2020 vision statement. We want a nation without avoidable blindness before the year 2020. We want a nation of empowered ophthalmologists before the year 2020. We want a knowledge nation before the year 2020. How do we do so?

  Eye Care Human Resources Top

Though we have 15,000 ophthalmologists in the country, in terms of per capita availability we have only one ophthalmologist for 75,000 individuals as against the world standard of one per every 50,000 population. So we need to increase the number of trained eye doctors. Meanwhile, we have to aggressively use technology to introduce large number of tele-ophthalmology centers in different states to cover the eye care of rural areas. Also, we may consider training of medical graduates in the detection and treatment of some of the common eye disorders. One example could be detection of diabetic retinopathy. This is an emerging blinding problem in the country. A three-pronged approach of using the available eye doctors, diabetologists and use of newer technology is required for tackling the rising problem. In addition, I would suggest that medical graduates can be taught direct ophthalmoscopy to detect a clinically evident retinopathy. This should be cost-effective. I am sure this medical graduate will be able to treat the diabetes also because he has already got the basic skills.

The situation of the support staff also needs immediate attention. The current ratio of 1:1 of ophthalmologist to support staff has to ideally increase to 1:5. So we need to increase the support staff. A mission mode program is needed to address the problem of the paucity of para-medical professionals including ophthalmology personnel. There are programs but there is a need for increasing the number and quality of training. In my opinion, the programs should contain both classroom and clinic-based teaching. I want to see a program that combines both earning and learning simultaneously. Such programs are likely to attract a larger number of students from economically underprivileged sections of the society, particularly in the rural areas. These staff, trained in the rural setting, will find it attractive to work in the rural areas. These are the professionals who could take care of the Vision Centers designed at the bottom of the Vision pyramid. I am aware of such a program working well in rural Philippines.

  Treatment at the Doorstep of the Patient Top

Due to the overall shortage of ophthalmic personnel, many of them are concentrated in the cities and the people in the rural areas have to go to the cities for receiving eye care. If the patients with common eye problems such as cataract and refractive error have to travel longer distances and obviously accompanied by one or two relatives the cost of blindness eradication goes higher. Think about the travel costs of all of them, wage loss of the accompanying relatives and the man-hour loss to the nation. Can we afford this? Hence, bringing eye care delivery to the doorstep in the rural setting is an important mission for the ophthalmic community assembled here. The mass eye camps that this country has mastered were good in the past; we should review this now in the light of certain surgical complications reported about the eye camps in Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Karnataka. Today, we should have permanent surgical facilities at least at the district hospitals. Mobile ones could be used for teaching rather than treating. A good mobile teaching eye hospital is the flying Orbis that I have visited once. A similar initiative can be taken by the AIOS by creating ten mobile ophthalmic training hospitals which can go to rural areas and train nurses and paramedics in ophthalmology/eye care.

  Healthcare of Children Top

In my opinion, the detection of eye problems must begin early in life. The school is the ideal place. The teachers must be trained to measure the eyesight so that they could seek help of ophthalmologists immediately. The members of the AIOS can institute a training program in their districts to train the teachers in their districts who can test the children every year and seek professional advice if they find any child with vision difficulty. They can also train National Service Scheme (NSS) volunteers, National Cadet Corps (NCC) cadets and Scouts and Guides in their region, who can become ambassadors of ophthalmologists in their districts.

  Networking of Ophthalmologists Top

I am here at the 65th annual meeting of the society. I have spoken on a number of occasions to the ophthalmic community. I would request the societies to extend their activities beyond the annual meetings. There is a need to network all the 15,000 ophthalmologists in the country through a special website. The website may have a provision for any individual having an eye care problem to post his problem on the website. The problem so posed should be examined by a team of ophthalmologists nominated for this purpose by the AIOS and the patient must be advised suitable corrective action. Also, some ophthalmic centers in different parts of the country have a special social welfare program to treat the economically weaker sections of the society free of cost. This culture must be spread amongst all the ophthalmologists participating in this conference. The AIOS may consider having a permanent headquarter facility which can carry out tele-education and also tele-consultancy to the needy, as a part of their mission.

  Promoting Global Competitiveness Top

I feel that some of the important research areas for the Indian Ophthalmic Community may include the following:

  1. Genetic research - Genetic phenotic correlation of eye diseases like glaucoma
  2. Application of stem-cell research
  3. Infection research - Design an antibacterial intraocular lens and new antifungal antibiotics
  4. Device research - Develop low-cost high-quality eye care instruments for the national and international market
  5. Develop country-specific electronic medical record for application in all eye care centers.

The ophthalmic community assembled here has to create new research in an institution adjoining the eye care centers so that the research is integrated with clinical science. Also, there is a need for reviewing the curriculum of medical education keeping the present needs of healthcare, particularly eye care, in mind. During my visits to Singapore and South Korea, I found that these countries are able to catch potential researchers very young. They have also created all the facilities for these young people to carry out research in the chosen topic. The members of AIOS should also consider working towards these objectives for making our eye care institutions equipped enough to provide world-class eye care to the needy. In this way, the 15,000 members of the society will become partners in developing India Vision 2020.

  Conclusion Top

'Complete vision is the mission' should be the motto of all members of the AIOS. Eye problems of patients can be corrected, if diagnosed early. This must be the focus of the members. A closed cycle among researchers, pharmaco-technologists, doctors, nurses, paramedics, teachers and NGOs should be created by the members of the AIOS which will enable availability of quality eye care at an affordable cost to every citizen of the country. I suggest that all of you join together and say, "let us remove all causes of avoidable blindness" and I am sure India will become a much more lighted and brighter place to live in.

With these words, I inaugurate the 65th annual meeting of the AIOS. My best wishes to all the members of the AIOS for success in their mission of making India free from eye diseases.

May god bless you.


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