Step up efforts to prevent blindness

The World Braille Day which was observed last week was an opportunity for the world to focus its attention on the condition of blind people and to spread awareness about their needs. The day commemorates the birthday of Louis Braille who invented the system that enables the blind and partially blind people to read and write. More than any other facility, it is the Braille language which has helped millions of blind people to access and understand the world through education. It has empowered and enabled them to cope with the challenges of life which are much more difficult for them than for others. Blindness is more debilitating than any other physical disability and almost always makes people dependent on others. The original Braille system has been improved much since it was invented and has many more practical uses and applications now.

The day is of special significance to India as the country has the largest population of blind people in the world. It has over 15 million of the world’s 37 million blind people. The blind do not receive the consideration and treatment they deserve in the country. The problem of blindness has to be tackled at three levels. One is to provide the necessary facilities for blind people to go about their lives. This will include effective implementation of the laws that are intended for the support and welfare of the differently-abled and creation of suitable public infrastructure for their use. However, even provisions for reservations are not effectively implemented. The second is to empower them through education and help them live their lives independently with dignity and self-respect. Routine announcements are made in this respect on Braille Day and on other occasions, but the promises are not kept. For example, the 350 special schools in the country are far too inadequate for the two million blind children.

The third and, perhaps, the most important need is to prevent blindness and help blind people gain or regain their eye sight. It is estimated that 75% of the cases of blindness in India are preventable. But adequate medical facilities do not exist. There is not even the awareness that most cases of eye impairment can be successfully treated. The number of optometrists and ophthalmologists is far less than required. About 25% of the blind people suffer from corneal blindness. But only a few thousands of corneal transplants are done every year. It is necessary to exponentially increase the number of eye donations. All these should receive a greater attention from the government, society and individuals.
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