India is home to over 9 million truck drivers. Truck drivers play a significant role in transporting India’s freight; however their unorganised nature of work prohibits them to take their health issues seriously. In 2015, Sightsavers initiated a pilot project to assess the situation of eye health amongst truck drivers in India. As the pilot expanded, we realised that nearly 1 in 2 truck drivers had vision-related issues across the country. While the project was serving a large number of beneficiaries, it had several shortcomings. For example, we did not know where could we find maximum number of truck drivers that are most marginalised, how do we take services to them so that they can access them on more than one occasion. Gradually, we also realised that the information available about the trucking community in the public sphere is inadequate.
To mitigate all these challenges Sightsavers in 2017 with the support of our valued corporate partners initiated a programme called ‘RAAHI’- National Truckers Eye Health Programme. After an extensive need assessment study, we identified that many truck drivers at any given point are predominantly present across the golden quadrilateral and North South-East West (NSEW) network along with 20 other high trucker density locations across the country. So, we decided to establish hubs (static centres) at these locations to target the majority of the truck drivers and reach out to the remaining ones in several high trucker concentration points by organising outreach camps that would be treated as spokes. All these hubs and spokes were then netted together as a network through a cloud-based system to ensure that drivers avail eye care services at multiple locations. For example, a driver could be examined at one location and receive his glasses at another location where he is heading next. Step by step, systems have been put in place to track spectacle compliance and patient satisfaction outcomes. This write-up is an endeavour to share with you some of the most insightful information about the lives of truck drivers as is available to us from big data accumulated through various examinations and interviews.
The Eye Health scenario
Over the last 3.5 years, we have screened over 1,86,432 truck drivers, of which 43% were dispensed with glasses, and 1% truck drivers were suspected of colour blindness. From the data that is available to us, 64 % truck drivers never had an eye examination before they entered our system. About 10% truck drivers that entered our system complained that they faced difficulty in judging distance while driving trucks and 34 % of truck drivers complained that they are not able to identify traffic light colour easily. The data clearly indicates that vision related problems and lack of awareness are a big issue amongst occupational drivers.
The General Health Scenario
It was astounding to notice that 64% of all the truck drivers have not had any health examination ever. One of the reasons could be unawareness, mentioned earlier. More than 1/3rd truck drivers did not even know where to go if they had health problems, the data revealed. The truck drivers have a migrant lifestyle from a very early age, hence a majority of them are unclear of the health facilities and services that can be accessed during sickness which further leads to excessive exposure to the quacks set up throughout the highway network.
The Economic Condition
Truck Drivers are the most crucial stakeholder in ensuring smooth transportation of goods over long distances yet remain vulnerable due to the fragmented and informal nature of the trucking industry. The data also sheds some light on the social security aspect of the trucking community, and it indicates that 55% of truck drivers do not have life insurance, and 2/3rd of the drivers do not have any form of health insurance. While a large number of truck drivers earn more than INR 10,000 per month, it is nominal given the level of physical and mental stress involved in this profession. A little over a quarter (26%) of drivers have employment for less than 12 months a year. It showcases that only a few truckers working for large fleets have some security while a majority that works independently or for fleets with less than 10 trucks do not have any social security. The trucking job is no longer as lucratively respected as it was before the 1980s. Further, of all the drivers that we have screened thus far, many of them hail from the underprivileged states of Uttar Pradesh (15%) and Rajasthan (10%) unlike earlier when truck drivers used to come from Punjab and Haryana. Also, 4% of all truck drivers have not gone to school and only 1% of all truck drivers are graduates.
Post Service Scenario
Once a truck driver receives a service at a centre or a camp location, 3 months later we call the driver to check with him on several parameters. Here are some of the results that have emerged from those interactions.
“Ganesh Patil, a truck driver aged 43, said he got his eyes screened in Mumbai center where he was diagnosed for near vision impairment and was provided with a pair of reading glasses on the same day. Ganesh says he can now see very clearly the road, speed breakers, odometer while driving and is quite happy to receive the pair of glasses. Ganesh said in future he will again get his eyes checked as he believes that clear vision definitely helps to get the work done better and sustain the driving profession.”
“Pramod Chernekar, another truck driver, aged 52, also availed eye health service under the project in Mumbai. He was given a pair of glasses on the day of screening. Pramod is quite happy with the quality of spectacles, and he says he can now see very clearly.”
The data concludes that truck drivers owing to the nature of the job and certain ostracization within the community are one of the most marginalised communities in the country, unlike perceived opinion amongst the general population. In several of our interactions with this population, we have seen a serious impact on their mental health due to aspects like homesickness, harassment by authorities and the public. Despite all this, over the last 1.5 years when the entire nation was under lockdown, they have come out and fought the pandemic, in the shortest possible time and transported essential goods, oxygen, and other services across the country. They are the covid warriors who fought the enemy, but all of their efforts have gone unnoticed. They are the economic drivers of the country in the true sense. It is time we come together to acknowledge the contribution of truck drivers to the survival and growth of our nation.
 Sightsavers MIS data: Sep 2017 to May 2021
 Calling data: Oct 2020 to Jan 2021
Project Officer-National Truckers Programmme
National Truckers Team, Sightsavers India
Programme Development Officer, Sightsavers India
Head, Corporate Partnership, Sightsavers India