The World Health Organization estimates that over 1.4 million children in the world are blind, and “approximately three-quarters of the world’s blind children live in the poorest regions of Africa and Asia.” In India, only 40 percent of the 23,000 primary healthcare centers have the capacity to provide refractive services that could eliminate preventable blindness in children.
Since 2005, Project Prakash has been working at the very grassroots of India, connecting hundreds of villages to the most sophisticated eye care available and building awareness about treatable and preventable blindness. Led by Principal Investigator Dr. Pawan Sinha, Project Prakash Charitable Trust provides eye treatment free-of-cost to curably blind children whose families cannot afford it or are not aware that the condition can be corrected. Along the way, the project has illuminated fundamental questions regarding brain plasticity and learning, creating a comprehensive picture of pediatric health across several sites in India.
How Does It Work?
Project Prakash’s field workers use a digitized application that helps them easily keep track of and follow up with their patients. The health data from this centralized repository will provide crucial context to formulate policies regarding the types of medical and rehabilitation resources that are most needed to improve the health of children. Samyukta Singh and Garima Aggarwal of the Mittal Institute traveled to the site of the project’s medical partner, Shroff Charity Eye Hospital (SCEH) in New Delhi, to learn more about the work the Project Prakash team is doing.
In addition to providing out-patient care at screening camps, the project’s outreach teams also arrange the travel to SCEH for congenitally blind children who can potentially benefit from surgical care. At SCEH, the children undergo a more thorough ophthalmic examination to assess if there are any counter-indications to treatment. Following consent, children are provided free high-quality surgical treatment, and stay at the hospital for several days to access clinical care during their recovery. After discharge, families are asked to return for follow-up assessments.
So far, the project has provided surgeries to nearly 500 children, and non-surgical care to over 1,500. Through its work, Project Prakash has had visible impact on the quality of life of the treated children, while also collecting data to better understand post-operative visual development and inform future medical procedures.
Going Above and Beyond
During their trip, Singh and Aggarwal also met with seven girls, aged 7–17, who have received surgical and rehabilitative care, as well as education from Project Prakash through a residential program launched for Prakash children. In residence, they’re provided with an academic education and vocational training to prepare them for integration into mainstream schools and, for the older students, financial independence. The residential aspect enables doctors to provide frequent clinical and scientific follow-ups to assess their ocular improvement.
The education program is also an opportunity to develop a specialized curriculum for children who are commencing their school journeys later than others. The girls, all of whom were born without eyesight, described their experience with regaining eyesight and the profound impact that the project has had on their lives. The vocational training they’ve received has opened avenues for development, further education, future employment, and personal growth.
Project Prakash has had a significant effect on numerous lives and will plans to expand its reach and impact through the launch of additional vision centers, care networks, and research hubs throughout India.
Project Prakash is supported by a collaboration between the Tata Trusts and the Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute, under the “Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Innovative Social Enterprises” research program.