India is also home to around 9 million blinds out of which one third has preventable blindness. Later means that we can treat it if we have capabilities and intention to treat. NPCB has done a great job of containing the problem of preventable blindness in India.
When comes to delivery of results in any social programs, people have serious doubt about the capabilities and intentions of government agencies. The suspicions are not entirely unfounded as corruption, inefficiency, lack of coordination, poor planning, and political interference are some attributes commonly associated with any government agency.
As the launch of any social benefit program attracts media attention, we often are in a hurry to do that. No surprise that India was the first country in the world to launch a 100% public-funded program for the control of blindness also called the National Program for Control of Blindness, NPCB. National Programme for Control of Blindness was launched in the year 1976 as a 100% Centrally Sponsored scheme with the goal to reduce the prevalence of blindness in India.
Experience of China
Just to put things into perspective, in China, the estimated numbers of blind people in 1990 were 6.7 million. The China population of people 50 years of age and older (who are at higher risk of blindness) in 2002 had increased by 27% compared to that in 1990. In 2002 there were an estimated 6.9 million blind people in China. That means that with all the efforts and resources the china invested in blindness control, an increase of 3% in the number of blind people was noticed in China, in the year 2002. They may well be attributed to the errors in estimations and projections to calculate these data.
In comparison with that, In India, the estimated number of blind people in 1990 was 8.9 million, which was around 2.2 million more blinds than what China had. Just like China, the Indian population of people 50 years of age and older (who are at higher risk of blindness) in 2002 had increased by around 30 % compared to that in 1990. But what’s most surprising is that in 2002 the total number of blind people estimated in India was 6.7 million. It was not only 0.2 million less than what China had, but also that India reported a decrease of 25% blind people over the numbers published in 1990.
This achievement is partially attributed to factors like patient awareness, and socioeconomic development but the credit primarily goes to the concerted national efforts to control the blindness sphere headed by NPCB. This success is attributed to an emphasis on evidence-based practice for planning and policy formulation besides the implementation and identification of strategies appropriate for local needs.
But the story is not over yet. Cataract surgical rate (CSR) is described as a number of cataract surgeries done in a year per one million population. The cataract surgical rate (CSR) is one of the major WHO indicators used to assess the overall level of blindness control efforts done in a country. WHO recommends an ideal CSR range of 3000-5000 per year per million population to meet the need. In India, CSR is estimated to be more than 5000. Under 11 five year plan (2008-12) around 3 million (2, 94, 07,355 to be exact) cataract cases were operated. From 2013 onward, with the exception of few states like UP and Panjab, most of the states are regularly exceeding the target of cataract surgeries planned every year under NPCB.
But then these are just numbers, and often the actual needy is left behind and government-funded benefits are taken by socially and economically strong sections of the society. A study reported from Madhya Pradesh, the female patient’s outnumbered males both are outdoor patients and operated patients in the eye camps organized under NPCB. Though this may be partially attributed to a higher incidence of cataract in aged females, it is no less achievement that the government is able to deliver them the services. In one of the series of around 2200 cases, the author reported that around 88% of the patients were from socially backward communities. The author added that “A combination of these three factors – female gender, poverty, and backward class – lays an individual in an utmost undesirable position. These camps were an immense aid to them”.
So next time when you are making a list of what India does better than the rest of the world, do not just include ISRO and Bollywood. Blindness control program NPCB, certainly deserve a place in that list.