Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss has said that India, home to 12 million blind people, will achieve its blindness elimination target of 0.3 percent by 2015, five years before the World Health Organisation (WHO) deadline of 2020.
"Currently, blindness prevalence in India is a little above 1.1 percent. And looking at the progress we are making, it would be 0.8 percent by 2010. We are quite sure that the WHO target of 0.3 percent can be achieved by five years before its deadline of 2020," the minister said.
"Cataract is the main reason of blindness in our country and we are conducting more and more camps in both urban and rural areas to deal with it. In 2006, we had conducted 5.2 million cataract surgeries across the country," Ramadoss told IANS in an interview.
A survey put the blind in India at 12 million, out of which 62.6 percent of sightlessness is due to cataract. During 2005, India had witnessed 4.9 million cataract surgeries. Nearly 80 percent of this blind population lives in rural areas.
Ramadoss said the National Programme for Control of Blindness (NPCB) and 'Vision 2020: The Right To Sight' plan have been doing a good job.
"Under these programmes, 70 percent of the money goes to the private sector. Our government is pleased with the results," he said, adding that India is committed to reducing the burden of avoidable blindness.
The minister, however, admitted that India has only 12,000 eye surgeons for a population of over 1 billion, which means one eye surgeon for 100,000 people. In urban areas, there is one eye surgeon for 20,000 people and in rural areas the ratio is one eye surgeon for 250,000 people.
The minister also underlined the need for eye donations. "We need 100,000 eye donations, but receive about 22,000 corneas per year. I have pledged my eyes after death and expect the public to lend its support."