There are at least nine million truck drivers in India… or there could be 12 million… no-one quite knows. However, we do know that these drivers, often poorly paid and working exceptionally long hours, are at the heart of the Indian economy, shifting 65 per cent of the country’s cargo each year, over a vast network of roads covering 3.3 million kilometres.
Indian roads can be dangerous. The World Health Organization estimates that almost 300,000 people die in India due to road traffic accidents each year, with a significant number of them involving trucks or buses.
Poor eyesight can often be a contributory factor in these accidents, but it can be difficult for the drivers to get their sight problems addressed when they are short of money and constantly on the move.
In 2017 things started to change thanks to Sightsavers and its partners. We launched a massive programme across the country in 39 centres to provide free eye tests and free glasses to every driver that needs them. And they are needed: more than 47 per cent of drivers tested so far have a problem with their vision. Working through more than 2,000 outreach camps, more than 217,000 members of the trucking community so far have been tested – over 100,000 of them drivers.
I visited one of the clinics in New Delhi to see 20 drivers receive their first-ever eye tests at a small centre set up in a loading bay at a truckers’ hub. One of the men was 42 years old and had been driving a large vehicle for more than 20 years. He had never had his eyesight checked before and it was found that he did indeed need glasses. He was tested by a trained optometrist and a technician made up the glasses on the spot.
He went off a happy man and we were safe in the knowledge that Sightsavers had helped make Indian roads a tiny bit safer.