It’s Time to Love Your Eyes

It’s Time to Love Your Eyes

World Sight Day is observed annually on the second Thursday of October, to raise awareness on the preventive and remedial treatment of eye impairment, the numbers are quite disquieting and statistics are distressingly soaring worldwide. Currently, 2.2 billion people, that represent a quarter of the world population, is afflicted with some forms of visual impairment. Founded in 1975, the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), is an international alliance to promote eye-health. It releases the annual theme of the event and in 2022, its aptly named as “Love Your Eyes”. World Sight Day was originally initiated by SightFirstCampaign of Lions Club International in 2000 and ever since, gathered momentum under the auspices of World Health Organization (WHO), and IAPB into a global network of NGO’ and affiliate partners of IAPB, numbering more than 150, conduct global campaigns to pre-empt and remedy sight disabilities. The WHO’s World Report on Vision and United Nations Resolution on Vision have emphasized eye health, as a critical health parameter, in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

According to a research paper released in May 2021, by eClinicalMedicine, which, is a part of the most distinguished and world’s oldest peer-reviewed, weekly medical journal, The Lancet, the annual productivity losses, due to blindness and moderate and severe vision impairment (MSVI) is a staggering 410 billion dollars. In the absence of inaccessible eye-care facilities and treatment, vision loss impact individuals, households and communities in manifold ways, but most importantly manifesting in the form of exacerbation of poverty, loss of livelihood and an overall reduction in the quality of life. One of the findings of the study, highlight, that more than 160 million people affected with MSVI and blindness, were within the working age group, and as a consequence, the relative reduction in employment stood at 30%. Vision impairment and vision loss significantly impact economic growth, since a healthy and skilled workforce, is the backbone of any nation. Eye-care has therefore, evolved into a broad-based development issue, that has the potential, to adversely impact the productive labor force in at least three categories.

1. Absence from work, termed as Absenteeism.
2. Productivity loss while at work known as Presenteeism.
3. Reduction in employment due to job-loss, under-employment and early retirement.

The economic costs of inadequate eye-care facilities require, contingency level policy initiatives. The IAPB is pioneering screening in national parliaments, assemblies, presidential and royal palaces to raise awareness, and to instigate legislative actions among politicians and decision makers. To cite a few, screenings are part of the 2022 agenda with the United Nations in New York and the Parliaments in the UK, Nepal and Australia.

On a granular level, IAPB partners with NGO’s, charity and voluntary organizations, especially in third world Asian and least developed African countries, to establish periodical eye-care camps, nurturing and training specialists and provide financial funding assistance. The downside risks and resulting economic costs are highest in poorer nations in sub-Saharan Africa, and in emerging economies like Bangladesh and India, where, a substantial percentage of the population live in extreme poverty, thus raising the costs of redistribution, safety nets and welfare schemes. Sightsavers, a 70-year-old, international charity organization, that has presence in 34 countries, is a globally leading entity, that does meritorious work in preventing avoidable blindness and advocates the rights of the blind and vision impaired. They treat eye-diseases like cataracts and refractive error, provide holistic counsel and medical interventions on preventing debilitating diseases like trachoma, river blindness, lymphatic filariasis, intestinal worms and distribute treatment for co-morbidities like diabetes that contribute to a blindness condition, called diabetes retinopathy. Sightsavers recounts innumerable success stories in combating avoidable eye-diseases in Malawi, Bangladesh, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Pakistan and India where whole communities were transformed, individuals and households championing awareness, becoming torchbearers of change and subsequently redirecting them into productive labor force.

The explosion of the digital communication devices like smartphones are malefactors, even of juvenile vision impairment. Human beings are becoming addicted to social media applications and the average screen time of people in the working age groups between 18-64, is increasing at alarming rates. The prolonged exposure to Blue Light waves of the mobile screens are empirically proven to cause damage to the retina and result in blurred vision, tired, itchy and dry eyes and intermittent headaches. Doomscrolling is a term associated with incessantly scrolling social media and news headlines, especially at bed-time, have consequences of distraction, sleeplessness by stimulating the brain and delays REM sleep. Research has found out positive correlations between mobile phone addiction and suppressed melatonin levels, the hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Also, long hours of exposure to blue light could disrupt the internal body clock which, upsets the circadian rhythm, which biologically is attuned to light and dark. Low-levels of melatonin is linked to insomnia, fatigue and irritability during daytime. Curtailing the use of smart mobile phones, is the primary step, in avoidable and preventive well-being of the eyes.

As part of “Love Your Eyes” global theme of 2022 World Sight Day, IAPB is campaigning for 5 million pledges not only pertaining to sight-test goals from individuals, but also extended to their pro-active, preventive and curative care of their eyes. The campaign also reiterates the need of a healthy lifestyle, limiting alcohol intake, abstaining from junk food, regular exercise, reducing screen-time, wearing sunglasses on exposure to sun, to protect the eyes from harmful UV rays, periodic eye check-ups and maintaining eye hygiene. Human beings, especially those societies positioned in time, need to slow down to introspect the vision of their lives and vision of their eyes and contemplate on the contemporary rat race to reach the future first, which, is best exemplified by a Welsh poet, W.H. Davies, in the penultimate lines of his famous poem “Leisure”, “No time to wait till her mouth can, Enrich the smile her eyes began.” Life wanes when light in the eyes wane.

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