National Summit celebrates Trust’s legacy to bring eye care to over 28 million people in India
Photo by Atul Loke / Panos Pictures

National Summit celebrates Trust’s legacy to bring eye care to over 28 million people in India

This week, the Government of India and the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) convened a three-day national summit to mark the conclusion of the Trust’s two five-year programmes in India to protect the sight of those with diabetes and of babies born prematurely. 

India is home to the highest number of people with diabetes in the world – some 65 million people are estimated to have the condition. Diabetic retinopathy – a complication of diabetes – is now the fastest growing cause of blindness globally as well as the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults. Yet regular screening, early identification and appropriate management can reduce the risk of blindness by 95 per cent.

Since 2014, the Trust has worked alongside the Government of India and PHFI to improve services across 10 States in India in 53 government hospitals. As a result of the programme’s efforts, 28 million people now have access to screening and treatment services, health care professionals have received world-class training to prevent and treat the condition, and national awareness-raising campaigns have ensured that people are informed about diabetes and how to manage the disease and prevent complications.

At the Summit, it was discussed how best to replicate the model of care established through the Trust’s programme with the Government of India now looking to take both to a National scale.

India is also home to the highest number of preterm births in the world – some 26 per cent of all preterm births are born in India. Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is the leading cause of blindness in children and occurs in the incubator, when preterm babies are given excessive levels of oxygen to help them to survive, but which permanently damages the blood vessels at the back of the eye. A child with retinopathy of prematurity may never even see light.

Before the Trust’s programme began in 2014, there were no national services in place to detect and treat ROP in India. There was little knowledge of the condition or understanding of the need to screen and treat the condition within the first 30 days of life. Working with the Government of India, over the past five years, the Trust’s programme has set up screening and treatment services for ROP in 21 hospitals across four districts in India, serving a population of more than 47 million people. Training has been provided to health care workers, such as paediatricians, ophthalmologists and nurses, to improve outcomes for premature babies and reduce the risk of ROP. Workshops have been set up to support parents who have a child affected by ROP. Through convening experts involved in the care of preterm infants, the Trust helped to establish national guidelines for the care of preterm babies, to prevent future cases of ROP.

At the Summit, Dr GVS Murthy, Director at the Indian Institute of Public Health reflected on the achievements of the two Initiatives, “They have blazed a trail, and set an example not just for India, but also other middle-income countries that are struggling to tackle these conditions. It has been my privilege and honour to help deliver the first set of steps to tackle these complex and growing conditions.”

Dr Sangeetha Abrol, Deputy Director General, National Program for Control of Blindness & Visual Impairment said, “The DR-ROP initiatives are a signal achievement and a sign of India’s ability to pilot and execute complex, multi-state interventions targeting some of our most vulnerable populations. We congratulate all our partners and look forward to working with them in taking these lessons across the nation”.

Speaking from the Summit, Dr Andrew Cooper, the Trust’s Director of Programmes added, “The Trust is immensely proud of its partnerships with the government of India and PHFI. Our aim was to run projects that would have the biggest impact on the most lives, and the Diabetic Retinopathy and Retinopathy of Prematurity Initiatives have been a great example of our mission to bring quality eye care to all those who need it. It's a legacy which will touch the lives of millions, long into the future."

The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust was established in 2012 to mark and celebrate Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Having delivered its five year programmes to tackle avoidable blindness and to empower the next generation of young leaders across the Commonwealth, the Trust will close its doors as planned on 31 January 2020.