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Govt to soon formulate comprehensive eye care package for visually impaired: Economic Advisor, MoH&FW

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Commenting on how the COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly tough for visually impaired people, Nilambuj Sharan, Economic Advisor, MoH&FW, and Joint Secretary, National Programme for Control of Blindness & Visual Impairment (NPCB &VI), GoI revealed that the government was preparing a comprehensive package for eye care services, which is mandatory at a time of such severe crisis.

He was addressing the a national conclave, ‘Spotlight on Visually Impaired in the wake of COVID-19’ organised by FICCI. He further added, “Under the National Programme for Control of Blindness and Visual Impairment, there has been a considerable decline in the number of cases and the country is close to achieving WHO’s goal of reducing it to 0.3 per cent of the total population by 2020.”

According to him, 65 lakh cataract surgeries are being conducted every year under this initiative.

Speaking on the accessibility of non-COVID treatment during the pandemic, Sharan said, “The pandemic has shaken the non-COVID healthcare services in the country, however, the government is providing specific guidelines to the state governments to resume the healthcare services in a phased manner.”

Dr Narottam Puri, Advisor-FICCI Health Services Committee said, “India was the first country to launch The National Programme for Control of Blindness and Visual Impairment in 1976 and was successful in reducing the numbers to a considerable extent.” He further said that the delay in the treatment caused due to the pandemic will bring a huge obstacle to the blindness prevention program, hence the Conclave on vision control organised by FICCI, will turn the spotlight on the critical issues and challenges faced by the patients and providers.

Sanjay Murdeshwar, MD, Novartis India said, “COVID-19 fears may be causing people to ignore medical emergencies as patients are afraid to come to the hospital due to the pandemic.” This crisis has not only strengthened the understanding of healthcare needs in India but also has forced changes in the medical ecosystem, he added.

Dr Phanindra Babu Nukella, CEO Vision 2020 & Country Chair, International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) said, “The lockdown has made life harsher for the blind. Those with visual disabilities often need companions or assistance services to do their daily work, which can make social distancing a challenge.”

Dr Taraprasad Das, Regional Chair, South East Asia, IAPB said, “To reach the last milestone in the eye care, we need the ‘High Tech and High Touch’ approach.”

Dr Ratna Devi, CEO and co-founder, Dakshama Health and Education, said, “Fear of contracting the virus has led elderly patients to prolong medication and postpone surgery follow-ups, resulting in further complications. We need to address the issue and help people come forward to seek treatment.” Communication channels need to be developed between a doctor and a patient which will help build the trust factor, she said.

Dr Mahipal S Sachdev, President, All India Ophthalmology Society said, “Our aim should be to provide digital eye care services to the remote areas of the country. Patients have to be educated not to ignore the visual problems as it can lead to irreversible blindness.”

Col (Dr) Sanjay Mishra, HOD, Army Base Hospital, New Delhi said, “Military hospitals have always provided the highest quality care to the patients but there is a marked reduction in patients coming to general ophthalmology clinic during COVID, even in military hospitals.” We are trying our best to create awareness through regular tele-ophthalmology consultations, he said.

Dr Raja Narayanan, General Secretary, Vitreo Retina Society of India (VRSI) said, “To stop the spread of the deadly virus, eye care is very important but people are not opting for treatment due to the virus.” He also mentioned that India lacks proper insurance when it comes to eye care and this needs to be resolved immediately.

The webinar was attended by eminent panelists including Dr Vishali Gupta, Professor, Advanced Eye Centre, PGIMER Chandigarh, ET Mohammed Basheer, MP and Former Education Minister, Kerala, and Srivathsan Aparajithan, MD, Intent Health Technologies.

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