India has the largest number of people with visual impairment globally. A burgeoning population and scarcity of quality healthcare have contributed significantly to the problem. It is indeed abysmal that of the 37 million people across the globe who are blind, over 15 million are from India. What is more appalling is that many of these are cases of blindness are avoidable.
Blindness occurring due to paucity of quality ophthalmic care and treatment coupled with the inability of a majority to afford or access such treatment are major contributing factors to the problem. Many people suffering from avoidable blindness live either in rural India or in urban slums. Scarcity and unavailability of ophthalmologists is a major aggravator of such a situation. Of the 40,000 ophthalmologists required in the country, there are approximately 12,000 practising ophthalmologists in India today and 80% of these live and practice in urban areas.
In an attempt to provide quality healthcare for the masses, Essar Foundation has turned towards telemedicine as a viable solution. Telemedicine is the use of telecommunication and information technologies to provide clinical health care at a distance. Telemedicine has proved to be beneficial for patients living in remote regions without much access to medical care. It has been successfully used to save lives in emergency situations. It helps eliminate distance barriers and improves access to medical services that would often not be consistently available in distant rural communities.
Tele-ophthalmology is an extension of telemedicine technology which is envisaged to improve the preventive and curative aspect of eye care in places like Paradeep in coastal Jagatsinghpur district of Odisha. This technology will help in connecting specialty services with patients at remote locations for advisory and sustained care.
Essar Foundation has taken telemedicine a step closer to the people of Odisha by inaugurating a tele-ophthalmic vision center at the Biju Memorial Hospital in Paradeep. The first of its kind in the district, the tele-ophthalmic vision center is also the first such center to be established in a government hospital by a corporate group in Odisha. Odisha Trust of Technical Education and Training (OTTET), a Bhubaneswar based health solutions provider, has provided technical support for establishment of the Center and will be assisting Essar Foundation in its day-to-day management.
The Center was inaugurated by Dr Damodar Rout, Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Government of Odisha. Speaking on the occasion, Dr Rout lauded the efforts of Essar Foundation and said, "The facility will help local people immensely even in the absence of an eye specialist. Not all cases require consultation with a doctor and the ophthalmic technician can effectively address eye care issues of rural people." Mr R K Sahu, Additional District Magistrate of Paradeep welcomed this initiative and said that the Center would surely bring improved eye care facilities closer to the people and support especially the needs of the elderly.
The tele-ophthalmic vision center is poised to touch the lives of several people in remote areas of Odisha. It will also endeavor to meet the objectives set under national programs like the National Blindness Control and Prevention Program. The Chief Executive Officer of Essar Foundation, Mr Deepak Arora said, "The Foundation has created a major positive impact through its healthcare initiatives by way of the mobile medicare unit and regular health camps, which the people of rural Paradeep have whole-heartedly accepted as their reliable resource for primary health care. The Tele-ophthalmic Vision Center is another step ahead in the direction of modernizing health care efforts and provide effective solutions to the eye care needs of the locals."
This unique effort by Essar Ports and Essar Foundation to reach out to the local population by bringing excellent eye care solutions closer to them has been received very well by the populace. More than 200 people attended the inaugural event, including local officials, media representatives, elected representatives from Gram Panchayats and Panchayat Samiti and Zilla Parishad, school and college teachers, senior officials from Essar and prominent local personalities. The Chief Executive Officer of Essar Bulk Terminal Paradeep Limited, a subsidiary of Essar Ports, Mr U Venkat Rao said, "We will make constant efforts to bring effective solutions to people's needs and become a true partner in progress."
By reaching out to the local population and providing them access to excellent eye care solutions, Essar Foundation has taken a crucial step towards making affordable healthcare accessible to all.