Treating childhood blindness

India is home to nearly 30% of the entire blind population of the world. Many of India’s blind are children with congenital anomalies of the eye. In over 40% of these cases, the blindness is treatable or preventable. However, most children never receive medical attention. The challenges of poverty, compounded by the visual handicap, exact a grim toll. The WHO estimates that 60% of India’s blind children die before reaching adulthood.

The reason for children’s poor access to ophthalmic facilities is the profound imbalance in the latter’s distribution. Most hospitals are located in India’s major urban centers. Over 70% of the population, however, lives in remote villages, effectively cut off from modern medical care. Poverty, ignorance and lack of simple diagnostic tools in rural areas deprive children of the chance of early treatment. There is a clear humanitarian need for treatment and awareness of childhood blindness.

Project Prakash seeks to address this need. The Project has launched outreach initiatives that screen children in villages and identify those whose blindness can be treated. To date, over 40,000 children have been screened. Over 400 of them have been provided surgical treatment and nearly 1400 have received non-surgical care. The transportation, treatment, hospital stay and follow-up examinations are entirely free of charge for the children.

While the magnitude of the problem of childhood blindness in India is daunting, we are encouraged that Project Prakash has begun to serve as a nucleus for bringing together the resources, expertise and commitment needed to mount an appropriate response.