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Education and Advocacy Making a Change in India

As I pack my bags for the 2nd World Congress of Optometry (WCO) in Hyderabad, I’m reminded of India’s recently celebrated 70th year of independence. By all counts, India is poised for the future. The country has seen significant economic growth over the past seven decades. In fact, India is now a $2.3 trillion economy, the seventh largest in the world. It is also now considered the fastest growing, major economy in the world with growth rates averaging more than seven percent in recent years. Boasting significant development in education, India now has a 74 percent literacy rate, up from only 18 percent in 1951. In healthcare, the infant mortality rate has declined from 146 percent in 1951 to 37 percent at present. This is all great news!

To ensure a stable future for India, many factors must come into play – from good government to economic opportunities to infrastructure improvements and continued healthcare reforms. As government leaders broach the conversation on healthcare, it will be important for vision health to play an integral role. This year’s WCO theme – accessible, quality vision and eye health – ties closely to the World Health Organization “Universal Eye Health: A Global Action Plan 2014-2019” initiative,  the target of which is reducing the prevalence of avoidable visual impairment by 25 percent by 2019. One of the ways to accomplish this is through a strong and equitable eye health system within which optometry plays a valuable and essential role.

Similar to other countries, impaired vision affects all aspects of society in India, from the academic performance of children and the independence of the elderly to worker productivity and safe drivers – all of which affect the future of a country. Uncorrected vision is believed to be responsible for widespread loss of labor productivity and quality, reading and literacy problems and diminished road safety. While it’s impossible to tackle every one of these problems immediately, it’s good to know that we can make small changes that add up to a big difference.

One focus of the Vision Impact Institute (VII) in India is road safety and healthy vision for drivers. Did you know the cost of road traffic accidents in India is three percent of the GDP? Additionally, a recent study shows that drivers in India with unacceptable vision test results were found to have an 81 percent road crash involvement rate – that’s 30 percent higher than drivers with good vision. According to some sources, India is even said to have surpassed China in road traffic accident fatalities, making its roads the deadliest in the world.

In order to combat these negative statistics, the VII is proud to endorse the recently announced partnership of The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) and Essilor and their commitment to promoting the role of vision in road safety. We applaud this partnership for its efforts to promote vision as a key pillar of road safety on a global scale through far-reaching awareness-building campaigns. The FIA’s recently announced new golden rule, “Check Your Vision,” also represents a major step in raising awareness on poor vision as a major public health issue.

As we continue to raise awareness about the priority of vision in overall healthcare, we will most certainly see continued improvements in education, productivity and safer roads. For India, this could mean even higher literacy rates, an even stronger economy and a reduction in the number of road traffic accident fatalities that threaten even its youngest citizens. Perhaps by giving vision a voice today, we can make a difference for India’s next 70 years!