Regaining sight through John Keells Vision Project

Friday, 15 October 2010 19:12 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

“What you have done for us cannot be measured, because we are now able to lead a normal life without being a burden to our children,” said S.K. Bandara Menike, from Karagahaulpata, a small village in Keppetipola, Welimada – one of the many beneficiaries of the John Keells Vision Project.

Since its launch in 2004, the John Keells Vision Project has continued to touch the lives of numerous vision-impaired persons. A reported 96 cataract operations have been successfully carried out in the island under this project since April 2010, taking the total number of operations to 3,722 since the launch of the project in 2004.

In addition to carrying out cataract surgeries, spectacles too are donated, with 1509 reading glasses and prescription spectacles being provided to adults during the course of the project so far. The most recent eye camps were held at the Kurupanawa Tea Factory, Malamulla and Ettampitiya, Bandarawela.  

While cataract is recognised as the most common cause of blindness in Sri Lanka, the tragedy is that, in the majority of cases, it is curable. But ignorance of this fact or the inability to purchase the required lens leads most patients to risk progressive blindness.

With many of them being the breadwinners of their families, this situation more often than not could have an adverse impact on the social as well as economic situation of entire families.

World Sight Day, which was observed around the world on 14 October, brings together all stakeholders involved in restoring sight. It is also the main advocacy event for the prevention of blindness and for ‘Vision 2020: The Right to Sight’ – a global effort created by WHO and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness to prevent blindness.

The John Keells Vision Project which is primarily an islandwide cataract surgeries project is aligned with the World Health Organisation’s ‘Vision 2020’ Project and is implemented via the John Keells Social Responsibility Foundation (Foundation).

Originally launched as ‘John Keells Vision 1000’ in 2004/05, the Vision Project targeted to restore the eyesight of 1,000 needy cataract patients throughout Sri Lanka. Since the original target of 1,000 cataract operations was achieved (and exceeded) by 2005/06, the project was continued in 2006/07 under the amended name ‘John Keells Vision Project’.

The initiative has been continued by the Foundation, in keeping with one of its primary objectives, which is to provide financial and other support to deserving, disadvantaged or needy persons towards improving their health and well-being.

While most of these cataract patients have the potential to be productive, they risk reduced employability as financial constraints force many to give in to the progressive blindness which the cataract brings about.

By sponsoring these operations, the Foundation seeks to empower individuals to once again become productive citizens and regain their social and economic independence. As such, the project benefits not only the individual, but his or her family and society as a whole.

Partnering with many different organisations in the pursuit of restoring sight, the Foundation has over the years collaborated with the International Association of Lions Clubs, in which instance operations have been done at the Lions Gift of Sight Hospital, Panadura.

The eye camps held islandwide under the project also attracts many volunteers from across the John Keells Group. Neither the fact that these camps are held on holidays nor their being held in some of the most remote parts of the country deters Group staff from volunteering their services at the various eye camps.

These include interacting with patients, registering patients’ details and supporting the medical staff at the eye camp. Many volunteers share their tremendous sense of fulfilment at being a part of this initiative.

“I am thankful for getting the opportunity to participate in these eye camps and I appreciate John Keells’ commitment towards CSR. I am proud to be a member of such an organisation. I would be happy to assist the Foundation in its CSR activities anytime!” said Nalaka Kumara, a volunteer from the John Keells Group Company Ceylon Cold Stores PLC, after his participation at the most recent eye camp held in Ettampitiya, Bandarawela.

Ettampitiya is located approximately 16 km off Bandarawela in a rural area where people are mainly farmers living in difficult conditions with limited access to medical care. The eye camp, organised by John Keells PLC, was one of the largest eye camps supported by the Foundation with a record number of over 950 patients being screened.

Seventy patients were selected to undergo cataract operations while 132 patients were provided with spectacles. Many more patients that were identified with other vision related complications were referred to the Provincial General Hospital in Badulla for special investigation and treatment.

The Project, which has been conducted with the support of volunteer eye specialists, finances the lenses and post operative drugs.

The eye surgeon who has performed the most number of cataract operations for the John Keells Vision Project since its inception, Dr. P. B. Iddawela, Consultant Eye Surgeon, Provincial General Hospital Badulla commented: “Working with John Keells on this project has been a great experience. I feel that the success of this project is mostly due to the trust built over the years, based on the objective of the project.”

“Regaining one’s sight is something amazing and through this project we have been able to accomplish this feat on behalf of over 3,000 deserving patients. I wish the John Keells Social Responsibility Foundation all success with regard to this admirable vision project.”

Given the large number of disadvantaged and needy persons across Sri Lanka requiring cataract surgery, the Foundation intends to continue the John Keells Vision Project with renewed vigour and commitment well into the future.

The Foundation invites the collaboration of eye surgeons around the country as well as likeminded organisations towards taking the project to all parts of the island to eradicate cataract which has been recognised as the primary cause of preventable blindness in Sri Lanka.