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Sightsavers from the field

Helping India’s truck drivers to see clearly

December 2017
Sandeep Kumar, a truck driver from India, stands in front of his truck.

Driving for several hours in one go is usually enough to tire anyone out.

But 24-year-old Sandeep Kumar chooses to stay behind the wheel for nearly 14 hours a day to earn a living and provide for his family.

Sandeep, a truck driver from Ghaziabad in northern India, juggles gruelling schedules and travels vast distances to earn about Rs14,000 (£150) a month. Like many of his colleagues, Sandeep is the sole breadwinner in his family.  Most of the drivers send their earnings home, yet only see their families occasionally: sometimes a few times a month; sometimes once a year.

The work is not only exhausting, it’s dangerous: accidents happen with alarming frequency.

Sandeep inside his truck.

A lot of Sandeep’s driving is done at night because trucks are not allowed to cross state borders during the day.

Sandeep inside his truck.

Astonishingly, poor eyesight could be putting almost half of India’s truck drivers – and other road users – at further risk, but their transient lifestyle, lack of free time and limited income mean having their eyes checked is just not possible.

Sandeep has only been driving for four years, but already knows the difficulties poor vision can cause. “During the night, when I focus on the lights I get a headache and my eyes get watery, so I drive with my head turned. It is risky, but what can I do? I get scared,” he says.

Yet the idea of not being able to drive scares Sandeep more. “I am worried about my future as I don’t have any cash, so I have to work to get food,” he explains. “I am the only member in my family earning – I have my parents and two little brothers, as well as my wife and two-and-a-half-year-old son.”

5 million
truck drivers work across India’s vast road network
Indian truck drivers sit on the ground and relax in front of their trucks.

Research over the past few decades has highlighted how eyesight is directly linked to driver safety and performance.

Indian truck drivers sit on the ground and relax in front of their trucks.

The overworked truck drivers are particularly vulnerable to safety issues, as their job comes with many risks: prolonged sitting and driving, tight running schedules, reduced rest breaks, traffic congestion, and the sedentary nature of the job, all of which can lead to physical, psychological and behavioural problems.

Sightsavers in India realised that truck drivers were struggling to get their eyes checked, so decided to take eye care services directly to them.

The National Truckers Eye Health Programme operates in 29 sites around India’s ‘golden quadrilateral’, which covers the main long-distance haulage routes.

65%
of all India’s cargo is transported via road
Truckers queue up to be registered by eye health workers at the screening camp.

Some of the clinics are held at permanent vision centres, while others are popup outreach camps.

Truckers queue up to be registered by eye health workers at the screening camp.

All the camps are in areas where drivers stop as part of their usual route to rest or unload cargo. At the pop-up camps, local partner eye care teams can set up their kiosks and begin screening in a matter of minutes. Drivers’ details are digitally uploaded using tablets and they are given an ID card featuring a QR code, which they can take to any site along their route and pick up their treatment where they left off.

Among those who have 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 (€103) 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 to restore his vision. Chandrika can now see clearly through both eyes and is able to safely continue working without worrying about his eyesight.

If the truckers are diagnosed with refractive errors and need spectacles, they can opt to collect custom-made glasses from a location of their choice.

Research from the truckers’ programme

A report from the programme was published in September 2017, based on three years of research across the country.

Read the report
Sandeep wears special glasses while an eye health worker tests his eyes.

Sandeep had his eyes screened at a mobile camp organised by Sightsavers in Ghaziabad.

Sandeep wears special glasses while an eye health worker tests his eyes.

The camp where Sandeep was screened took place at Chattaipur Raipur Transport Service, a fleet location where most of the truck drivers congregate to load and unload their goods and have a rest.

“My transport company is based here, so I saw the screening by chance,” says Sandeep. “I felt happy when I saw it – when we go to other places you have to pay, and here it’s free.”

Following his eye test, Sandeep was given a prescription for new glasses, which he can collect in 10 days. “I will feel nice driving if my eyesight gets better,” he says. “If it got worse, I’d have no option but to leave. Now I won’t have to.”

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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