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.
The tests often pick up other vision problems too. More than 6,000 drivers were diagnosed with cataracts. These patients were quickly referred to our partner hospitals where corrective operations can take place in just a matter of days.
India’s four top metropolitan cities have all been targeted in this innovative truckers’ programme and major treatment centres have been created in and around New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata.
As the drivers are on the go almost all the time, being able to meet them again in the same location can be difficult. If more sophisticated spectacles need to be made up by a specialist technician, the programme makes use of a neat IT system to register every single beneficiary on a cloud-based software platform so that drivers are free to choose a centre close to their next stop for a follow-up check or collection of their new glasses.
But we are not only working with truckers and lorry drivers. We are also working with bus drivers in Bengaluru, one of India’s fastest-growing cities, sometimes nicknamed he Silicon Valley of India.
We work in close collaboration and with the enthusiastic support of the Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation, the city’s sole public bus provider, which has nearly 6,500 vehicles and 33,000 staff.
Working with RPG Foundation and Zensar, we are providing primary eye care and vision correction services to drivers and the other workers of BMTC. So far, we have worked in 37 depots, covering 14,250 drivers, and we aim to have checked every staff member in the next six months. We will be looking to create a similar initiative among bus drivers in another major Indian city.
Sightsavers is improving eye health and in doing so, is helping to reduce the number of deaths on the roads of India.
Sir Clive Jones
Sir Clive is Sightsavers’ chair of the board of trustees.