Urgent need to prioritize Eyecare in India: Industry Experts

New Delhi: Experts at the South India II Conclave: Spotlight on visually impaired in the wake of COVID-19, yesterday highlighted the challenges faced by patients with eye disorders due to COVID-19 and the way ahead.

Addressing the virtual session organized by FICCI, Dr SV Chandrakumar, Project Director, State Programme Officer, Tamil Nadu State Blindness Control Society said that for patients requiring immediate eye care during COVID-19, the Tamil Nadu government started the teleophthalmology consultation and the soon to launch mobile ophthalmology units.

“The state was unable to perform eye surgeries till the month of September due to the pandemic, however, private hospitals and NGOs have started conducting cataract operations following the guidelines issued by the Govt of India to resume eye care services in the state,” said Dr Chandrakumar.

In the wake of the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Tamil Nadu, Government-run hospitals have become designated COVID hospitals that have driven patients towards private healthcare, which many cannot afford, he said.

Speaking on various government initiatives Dr Chandrakumar said, “We provide two lakh free spectacles to school children every year and this year we are providing free spectacles to senior citizens as well.” He also informed that they regularly supply equipment to medical colleges, are building a centre of excellence and constructing operation theatres and post-operative wards for the wellbeing of patients in the state.

Dr Neena Rani, Deputy Director, National Blindness Control Program and Visual Impairment, Government of Kerala said, “The pandemic has impacted the regular vision screening in schools and old age homes, however, the Regional Institute of Ophthalmology has been providing treatments and performing emergency surgeries as per requirements.”

Ms Ambili Vijayaraghavan, Chief Operating Officer – Aster Medcity, said that in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic visual impairment has been the biggest challenge for healthcare providers as eye care has taken a backseat.

Dr Kim, Director-IT, AECS, Chief Medical Officer, Aravind Eye Hospital said that a positive to have happened during the pandemic was the introduction of the telemedicine practice. “We realized that technology could be an excellent enabler in reaching people at the primary healthcare level,” said Dr Kim.

Mr Chanakya Misra, Business Head, Novartis India Ltd, said that older adults living with retinal diseases are at a high risk of accidents. “It is important to be Atmanirbhar today, but it is equally important to be ‘Netranirbhar’,” he added.

Dr Ronnie George, Deputy Director in Glaucoma Service, Sankara Nethralaya noted that they had taken utmost protection in reaching out to patients during these challenging times as prevention of blindness is a very important outcome for healthcare services in India.

Dr Pramod Bhende, Director, Department of Vitreo Retinal Services, MRF, Sankara Nethralaya said that the fear of virus has led patients to prolong medication and postpone surgery follow-ups resulting in further complications, but things are gradually easing out and patients have started to come for treatments following safety protocols.

Dr Mohan Rajan, Chairman and Medical Director, Rajan Eye Care mentioned that patients are delaying their eye treatments and follow-ups due to fear of the virus which is increasing the risk of further deterioration.

Dr Gopal Pillai, HOD- Dept. of Ophthalmology, Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences, Kochi said that several govt hospitals that treat eye diseases have been converted to COVID centres, which has confused the patients as the charges in private hospitals are unaffordable for many.

Mr Bhabatosh Mishra, Director and Head for Products, Claims and Underwriting, Max Bupa Health Insurance Company believed eye health is an important subject and in a country like India, healthcare, and healthcare financing work together.

The conclave was attended by Dr Mariam, Ophthalmologist, Military Hospital, Chennai; Dr Haripriya Aravind, HOD ? Cataract, Aravind Eye Hospital; Dr Girish Shiva Rao, President- Medical Research Foundation, Sankara Nethralaya; Dr Suresh Kaliamurthy, Additional Chief Health Director, Southern Railways; Dr D Ramamurthy, Chairman, The Eye Foundation, Coimbatore; and Dr Anand Rajendran, Professor and Sr Consultant, Aravind Eye Hospital, among others.


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