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VISION 2020 INDIA has worked with the West Bengal government to implement a Universal Eye Health programme in this Eastern Indian state.
On 4 January 2021, Chief Minister of West Bengal, Ms Mamata Banerjee announced an Eye Health for All scheme, “Choker Alo” (Light for the eyes), in the state. “Our aim is eye health for all by 2025 in the state,” announced the Chief Minister at the programme’s virtual launch.
The scheme is groundbreaking in the state. It aims for free cataract surgery for senior citizens and will conduct eye health screenings and deliver treatment to all ages over the coming five years.
“Choker Alo” is particularly significant in the wake of the 2015-2019 RAAB Survey that showed the prevalence of blindness in West Bengal is around 1.66%, as opposed to the national average of 1.99%, in persons aged 50 years or above.
The implementation of this initiative is largely attributed to the advocacy efforts of VISION 2020 INDIA board members from West Bengal: Dr Rajesh Saini (National Coordinator) and Dr Asim Sil (East zone representative) and also of Sightsavers, an international NGO. The team drafted a proposal which they initially submitted to the West Bengal Health Ministry in August 2020. After some deliberation, they submitted a final proposal in December 2020. The tenacity and optimism of the VISION 2020 INDIA board members ensured their concept manifested into a state-wide project.
Dr Asim Sil stated, “It is a big initiative”. Dr Rajesh Saini, added that “the state government’s initiative is all set to improve the eye health system in the state”. He went on to express his appreciation that “most of [our] proposals have been incorporated in the programme outlined by the Directorate of Health Services, West Bengal”.
The first phase of the scheme began on the 5 January 2021, where 2 million senior citizens will be operated for cataracts. In its totality, the first phase will see 1,200 village governing institutes and 120 primary health centres visited and catered to. Additionally, 400,000 students will receive free spectacles – “Wherever required, they will be provided with free spectacles”, promised Ms. Mamata Banerjee when launching the scheme. The Chief Minister also highlighted that 300 eye surgeons, 400 optometrists and 63 NGOS will be involved in this work in West Bengal, an unprecedented feat for eye health in the region.
The fundamental goal of the Universal Eye Health Programme is to strengthen efforts in preventing avoidable blindness, provide equitable service, and ensure universal access to eye care in the state. We’re excited to see more.