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Sightsavers from the field

Helping India’s truck drivers to see clearly

December 2017
A man in India, wearing glasses, standing in front of a truck..

In India, nine million truck drivers transport two thirds of the nation’s cargo by road. The drivers work long hours and travel huge distances every day, and having good eyesight is a vital part of the job.

Yet for many truckers, finding the time and money to go for an eye check-up can be difficult. This is why, since 2014, Sightsavers has been offering free eye health services to the drivers in a bid to improve road safety.

Bharat, a 36-year-old long-distance driver, is just one person who has benefited from the programme. He has been a truck driver since the age of 18 and for the past few months had been finding it difficult to see objects in the distance. His poor sight made him feel uncomfortable driving, but a back-to-back driving schedule meant he didn’t have the time to seek help, and he was unable to take time off work: his family of four rely on his salary, which equates to about £140 a month.

Two men site at a registration desk at an eye health camp.
The registration desk at an eye health camp in Ghaziabad.

Free eye tests and treatment

To make it easier for drivers such as Bharat to receive eye screening and treatment, Sightsavers set up 235 eye camps in 10 cities. They are staffed by an optometrist, health worker and camp organiser, and are located in busy transport hubs such as Mumbai and Ghaziabad near Delhi, where the trucking community usually congregates.

The camps offer quick screenings that test drivers’ ability to see objects clearly, as well as checking for colour blindness and making sure their eyesight can adapt to varying light conditions. They also offer counselling and advice on treatments, and provide free spectacles for those who need them. These are delivered to the drivers’ offices, solving the problem that drivers face in planning where and when to pick up their spectacles while on the road.

The programme contributes to a United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal to halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents.

Bharat was able to get his eyes tested at one of Sightsavers’ eye camps and was diagnosed with nearsightedness. To correct his vision, he was given free spectacles, which have proved invaluable.

“I can see everything now, even far-away objects,” he says. “I feel much more at ease while driving.”

A trucker receives a detailed eye examination from an optometrist. He is sat down with a pair of examination glasses on.

Understanding the root of the problem

As well as providing free eye screening and treatment for the transportation community, Sightsavers wanted to find out more about why truck drivers have problems accessing eye healthcare in India. Alongside our partners, we carried out a survey of people who attended an eye camp between April and December 2016: these eye camps screened more than 17,500 people for eye conditions. Almost all (98 per cent) were male.

The results showed that many of the drivers weren’t aware of the relationship between good vision and road safety, possibly because of a low literacy rate among the majority of respondents. Yet both truckers and fleet companies welcomed the free eye health services. Those that received treatment reported an immediate improvement in vision.

Survey results
Heavy workloads and a lack of free, quick and nearby eye healthcare makes it difficult for drivers to visit eye health clinics. Most respondents said they preferred to continue working as best as they could.

47%

of people screened had uncorrected refractive error

1 /

95%

of the participants diagnosed with refractive error were given free spectacles (7,605 people)

2 /

42%

said they faced issues reading addresses and other information while driving

3 /

60%

said they experienced headaches

4 /

70%

said their eyes were itchy and 64% experienced watery eyes

5 /

63%

said they had difficulties seeing things in the distance

6 /
79%
said their vision improved significantly with spectacles

Among those who benefited from the programme is 66-year-old Chandrika Ram, who has been driving dumper truckers for the past 40 years. At the moment he transports fish from Paradip Port on the east coast of India, and his family of nine rely on his salary, which is equivalent to £93 a month.

After steadily losing his vision in one eye, Chandrika attended a Sightsavers eye camp where he was diagnosed with cataracts and referred for surgery. Chandrika can now see clearly through both eyes and is able to safely continue working.

Mohammad Islam Ansari sitting in his orange truck looking out of the door.

The eye camps have helped to improve drivers’ vision and confidence, enabling them to support their families without compromising on safety.

Mohammad Islam Ansari sitting in his orange truck looking out of the door.

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