WORLD SIGHT DAY SPECIAL: We need to focus on our children’s eye care

child A child watches TV up close

Dr. Rishi Raj Borah, Country Director, Orbis India, steers the conversation towards the importance of annual eye check up this World Sight Day.

It has been estimated that with increasing time indoors and the digital strain we have been subjected to because of the pandemic, the myopia progression is set to increase. The World Report on Vision also states that there are a range of optical, pharmacological, behavioral and surgical interventions to delay the onset or slow down the progression of myopia. But preventive measures cannot be taken for the condition. This is, especially, true for children who have had to switch to online from physical classes and remain in home confinement as against playing outdoors with friends.


How can we ensure we do not neglect our, our family’s and, most importantly, children’s eyes? Can we help ourselves and our children just by giving them a healthy and balanced diet as we spend more time indoors? Can we try to cut down on screen time? Yes, we can. As we gradually learn to grapple with the trying times, we learn to adapt, pick up on the issues and solve them one by one. Similarly, as the COVID-19 vaccination drive continues in the country and we inch towards herd immunity, we need to ensure we are doing all we can to protect our eyes just as much as any other organ. The simplest way to do that is annual eye checkup.


The IAPB World Sight Day 2021 theme is so apt, ‘Love Your Eyes.’ Loving your eyes is not just about going to a doctor when you have an eye problem. Loving your eyes stems from loving yourself-taking care of yourself, always. So, if you love yourself, you will love every part of you, eyes being a crucial part of you. When it comes to a child, often s/he might not be able to express their difficulty in seeing or understand that they have vision problems. It is upon you, as a parent, to pick up on the discomfort s/he is facing and take him/her to an eye doctor. Now, it is likely you do not know how to pick up on the symptoms, which is why a proactive annual eye test is crucial. If you have access to quality eye care, you have no reason to avoid annual eye checkup for yourself, your child and family. Make it a milestone you can mark this World Sight Day and every year following 2021 to beat the myopia progression. Talk about it with friends, encourage them to get their and their children’s eyes checked.


Now, think of families who do not have easy access to care in small pockets of India. Being unable to get eye care doesn't just take away sight. It closes doors to school and play, jobs and livelihoods, participation in community life and the ability to thrive. Nonprofits like mine, i.e., Orbis, constantly work with local eye hospitals in these small pockets to ensure families, especially children, do not lose sight for avoidable causes. Take, for instance, the recent case of a 14-year-old girl in East India.  During one of our recent eye test visits to Narayanpur village, tucked away in Bihar, we witnessed the inspiring story of Khushi who could not step out of her home to go for an eye test even as we brought the services right at the community’s doorstep. Her mother explained to the team, “We cannot step out or meet a doctor without the presence of a male family member, until absolutely necessary”. Khushi’s father has been living in Delhi for over seven years now, with Khushi and her mother living in the village.

Although Khushi’s eye problem was identified in the first visit, during the second visit for detailed eye test, Khushi’s grandmother refused to allow the examination fearing that if her granddaughter were to wear a pair of glasses, she would not have marriage prospects in the future. So you see, a child’s health and well-being depends on her/his parents and guardian like Khushi’s grandmother. Of course, upon counselling by Orbis’s partner hospital team member at Akhand Jyoti Eye Hospital and backed by Khushi’s persuasion, her grandmother was finally convinced.

Khushi-2 Khushi with her glasses

Khushi wanted a pair of glasses, so she could get back to studies without worrying about the headache and blurred vision she faced for six months before we reached out to her. The team’s effort to convince Khushi’s mother and more importantly her grandmother was worth it. The young teenager got her eyes tested, got a pair of glasses and felt positive about her future. The little girl wanted to break the conventional aspects of a woman’s role in society. When she was asked what she wanted to become, she said she was interested to join the police academy. She felt she could grow up to do much more than to manage household chores and take care of kids, once married.

It is interesting how a simple intervention like glasses can have such a great impact on children, don’t you think? It is stories like Khushi’s that we saw during the pandemic. It inspired us to continue our mission to reach out to more children with all safety measures intact. I cannot thank our partner hospitals enough who are integral to our pediatric eye care goals in the country. I am proud to see the achievements and drive of the local teams to serve the community even amid adversity.

Khushi-1 Akhand Jyoti member counselling Khushi’s mother

Prioritizing eye care is not an individual but collective effort of the government, organizations like mine, and other stakeholders. The World Report on Vision launch by Vision 2020: INDIA this World Sight Day is timely in that context. It underlines the need for collaborations and encourages us to work further in areas that need focus. One such simple intervention is annual eye checkup. You, as an individual with the beautiful gift of sight, are a key stakeholder and this World Sight Day and every year in the future, you have the power to affect change by prioritizing your and your children’s eye health.

Dr. Rishi Raj Borah has been in the eye care sector for almost two decades.Apart from overseeing the Orbis initiatives in India, he also oversees programs in Nepal and Indonesia. He has been an integral part of the Orbis journey in these countries and has received prestigious awards such as the IAPB Eye Health Hero Award in 2017 and Vision Excellence Award in 2020