Saturday November 18, 2017

550 mn Indians live with uncorrected refractive errors, leading to rampant road accidents

Poor vision plays a critical role in safe driving

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Road accidents in India
Road accidents in India. Pixabay

New Delhi, Sep 11, 2017: With a staggering 550 million Indians — close to half the population — living with uncorrected refractive errors, the major cause of road accidents, and 63 percent of the world’s population in need of vision correction, two major stakeholders have come together to address the issue in this country and globally.

“Poor vision plays a critical role in safe driving, but we know that much of that could be avoided. According to an analysis by Boston Consulting Group, 23 per cent of drivers have uncorrected vision, but in India that number is 46 per cent — the highest of any country in the world,” Jayanth Bhuvaraghan, Chief Mission Officer of French lensmaker Essilor International, told IANS during a visit here of the three-year partnership with the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA).

The “Action for Road Safety” partnership aims to create awareness on this global health issue and highlight the importance of regular eye checks for safe driving. The call to “Check Your Vision” will be commonly promoted towards local authorities, institutions, NGOs, eye care & medical professionals, driving schools and road users, among others, he added.

The figures for India are horrifying with some 138,000 people being killed in road accidents each year. Last week, Minister for Road Transport & Highways Nitin Gadkari released the annual publication, ‘Road Accidents in India – 2016’, which revealed that fatalities resulting from these accidents have risen by about 3.2 per cent.

According to the Home Ministry, there was a 17.6 per cent increase in road accident deaths from 2008 to 2012, and 50 per cent of those who died were aged between 15 and 34.

“Something must be changed,” exclaimed Kristan Gross, Global Executive Director of the Vision Impact Institute, which is funded by the Essilor Social Impact Fund.

Speaking about the initiative in India, Bhuvaraghan noted that access to optometric eye care is limited, as there are approximately seven doctors of optometry per 1 million people across India, well below the world average of 25/1M.

Also Read: Unnatural deaths mostly due to road accidents in India: Report 

“But there is one other key barrier to corrected vision that we must still address: Acceptance. In India, stigmas exist around spectacle wear for all ages, but it is a tremendous issue for those in the professional driving industry.

“We have heard from many in this industry that wearing spectacles can be seen as a weakness or a visible defect. Therefore, many drivers are not wearing the correction they need, even when it is prescribed. Drivers were fearful of not being hired if they are thought to be defective,” he added.

To this end, The Vision Impact Institute is working to break down these stigmas through education, utilising the personal testimonies of other drivers for which vision correction and eye protection have been a benefit rather than a drawback, Gross explained.

A Central Road Research Institute (CRRI) interim report on ‘Assessment of Visual Limitations of Commercial Drivers in Metropolitan Cities in India’ focusses on commercial drivers in Delhi. The study was in association with the Vision Impact Institute. The sample size of the survey was 627 drivers and the study was conducted during August 8-14, 2017. Seventy per cent of those surveyed were light motor vehicle drivers, 24 per cent were heavy motor vehicle drivers, four per cent were private bus drivers while one per cent were government bus drivers.

According to the preliminary findings:

* One in every three drivers had either marginal or poor Far Visual Acuity (distance vision)

* Half the drivers surveyed had either marginal or poor Near Visual Acuity (near vision)

* Overall 29 per cent drivers, mostly among the older age group, with marginal and unacceptable stereopsis (depth perception) problems were more likely to be involved in accidents

* Overall 34 per cent drivers were found glare blind (56-60 per cent of the younger group of drivers had glare-related problems, 29-44 per cent of the older group of drivers had glare-related problems)

As for FIA, with its 245 member-clubs, representing over 80 million road users in 144 countries worldwide and its strong showcase in motor sport (F1, WEC, WTCC, WRC, World RX, ERC, Formula E et al), it “is a major global voice in the automotive world and is strongly committed to raising awareness and taking action on this global issue”, Bhuvaraghan concluded. (IANS)

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Drive Safely! Heavy smog covers India, Pakistan, causing accidents and illness

Authorities have advised people to limit road travel and wear facemasks to protect themselves from respiratory illnesses

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AIR POLLUTION
Motorcycles and vehicles drive on a road while fog envelope the area (AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad) (VOA)

Islamabad, November 6, 2017 : Smog has enveloped much of Pakistan and neighboring India, causing highway accidents and respiratory problems, and forcing many residents to stay home, officials said Saturday.

Pakistani meteorologist Mohammad Hanif said the pollution, caused by dust, the burning of crops, and emissions from factories and brick kilns in Pakistan and neighboring India, was expected to linger until the middle of the month and contribute to smog- a combination of smoke and fog. He advised people to wear facemasks to protect themselves from respiratory ailments.

Mohammad Arshad, a highway police official, said at least 10 people were killed and 25 injured in road accidents linked to poor visibility in various parts of the Punjab province due to smog, since Monday. Authorities have advised people to limit road travel.

Average air pollution in Pakistan’s major cities is about four times higher than the World Health Organization limits.

Similar problems have been reported in the Indian capital, New Delhi, where air quality was rated “very poor” Saturday. Some private schools in New Delhi have suspended sports and outdoor activities.

India’s Supreme Court banned the sale of firecrackers in New Delhi ahead of last month’s Hindu Diwali festival to try to curb air pollution in the city notorious for smog. Though reports said air quality was better than last year, pollution levels in the capital hit 18 times the healthy limit the night after the festival, as many dodged the ban. (VOA)

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Viral hepatitis Caused 1.34 mn Deaths Globally: Study

Viral hepatitis was found to be amongst the top ten leading global killers

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Viral hepatitis
World Health Organization poster for Hepatitis Campaign. VOA

London, Sep 16, 2017: Viral hepatitis with 1.34 million deaths globally has surpassed all chronic infectious diseases including HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, according to a study by Global Burden of Disease.

The study reveals that in 2016, the total deaths caused by viral hepatitis, including liver cancer, acute cases, cirrhosis, hepatitis A, E, B, C and D account for 1.34 million globally, exceeding tuberculosis (1.2 million), HIV/AIDS (1 million) and malaria (719,000).

These staggering death rates occurred despite recent advances in hepatitis C medications that can cure most infections within three months and the availability of highly-effective vaccinations for hepatitis B.

“It’s outrageous, but not surprising, that the Global Burden of Disease Report found that deaths related to viral hepatitis have surpassed HIV, TB and malaria” said Charles Gore, President of the World Hepatitis Alliance — a not-for profit organisation based in London.

“This is largely due to a historic lack of political prioritisation coupled with an absent global funding mechanism,” Gore added, in the paper published in the journal the Lancet.

Further, viral hepatitis was found to be amongst the top ten leading global killers which include heart disease, road accidents, Alzheimer’s disease, amongst others.

Also Read: WHO Calls for stepped up action to Eliminate Hepatitis B and C by 2030 

If this trend has to be reversed, immediate action must be taken at both a regional and national level, said the report, while suggesting measures such as scaling up testing and diagnosis.

Viral hepatitis is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus and only 5 per cent of people living with the disease are aware of their conditions there are only few noticeable symptoms.

As a result, many people are either misdiagnosed or do not come forward for testing, increasing the chance of infecting others and missing the opportunity to access life-saving treatment.

Reducing hepatitis related deaths by 65 per cent by 2030 is a key component of the World Health Organization’s Global Hepatitis Strategy.

The strategy, which was adopted by 194 governments, sets out a list of key targets, which, if achieved, will eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030. (IANS)

 

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Holy Dip in Garbage Floating Ganges River: A big Cause of Concern for Hindus

The pristine waters of the Ganges river as it gushes down the Himalayas have long turned into a toxic sludge due to garbage, untreated sewage and industrial waste dumped into it

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A pile of garbage lies on the riverbank along the Ganges riverfront known as "Har ki Pauri," the most sacred spot in the Hindu holy town of Haridwar where devotees throng. (A. Pasricha/VOA)

On a gray monsoon morning, Darshana Kapoor picks her way gingerly through the slush on the riverbank after taking a dip in the Ganges River in Haridwar town, one of the most revered spots for Hindus.

But the ritual bath that Hindus believe absolves a lifetime of sins was not an uplifting experience for her. “My faith brought me here, but when I see the garbage floating in the river, I felt so bad. I had to scrub myself,” she said.

Haridwar, India

She was not exaggerating. The Central Pollution Control Board has said that the water of the Ganges at Haridwar is not fit for bathing.

The murky condition of the mighty Ganges is a letdown for thousands of devotees who flock daily to the pilgrim town, some for a ritual dip, some to immerse the ashes of their loved ones or to take part in a colorful prayer ceremony held every evening to celebrate the Ganges, which devotees call “Maa” or mother.

Hundreds of Hindus take a ritual dip in the Ganges at Haridwar believing it absolves a lifetime of sins. (A. Pasricha/VOA)
Hundreds of Hindus take a ritual dip in the Ganges at Haridwar believing it absolves a lifetime of sins. (A. Pasricha/VOA)

These devotees were hoping to see results from a flagship $3 billion initiative launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to revive the river, particularly in Hinduism’s holiest towns such as Haridwar and Varanasi.

The pristine waters of the river as it gushes down the Himalayas have long turned into a toxic sludge due to garbage, untreated sewage and industrial waste dumped into it as it courses through booming pilgrim and industrial towns along the vast, populous plains of North India. It is a huge concern because the river is a water source for some 400 million people.

After his victory in 2014, Modi had acknowledged the failure of an expensive three-decade long effort to rejuvenate the Ganges, and vowed to succeed where his predecessors did not.

But three years after the Hindu nationalist leader’s pledge, the once-mighty river is still dying, say environmental activists.

India’s top environmental court, the National Green Tribunal, slammed the government in July, saying “the status of river Ganga has not improved in terms of quality and it continues to be a serious environmental issue.”

The court prohibited dumping waste within 500 meters of the river and said that no development should be allowed within 100 meters of the river as it flows along a 500-kilometer stretch from Haridwar to the town of Unnao.

Hundreds gather to witness a colourful prayer ceremony held along the Ganges River in Haridwar every evening. (A. Pasricha/VOA)
Hundreds gather to witness a colourful prayer ceremony held along the Ganges River in Haridwar every evening. (A. Pasricha/VOA)

That is crucial to revive not just the river, but also the banks or “ghats” in pilgrim towns where visitors throng.

However, in a country with abysmally poor enforcement, environmentalists point out court orders do not always translate into action on the ground.

“The basic problem in this country and this case also is compliance,” says M.C. Mehta, an environmentalist who has been leading a campaign to get rid of the pollution. “No monitoring mechanism is there, so it is very difficult to say how much directions have been complied with.”

The main challenge is the slow pace of setting up treatment plants – about three-quarters of the sewage generated in the towns and cities in the northern plains flows untreated into the Ganges.

Sewage treatment plants in Haridwar, for example, can only cope with half the sewage. New ones have been planned, but none have been built yet.

In fact, some fear the river is becoming dirtier as India’s growing population and economic boom has meant an ever growing influx into towns like Haridwar.

Shopkeeper Ganesh Singh in Haridwar says efforts are being made to educate people about not throwing plastic and other waste in the river or along its banks. (A. Pasricha/VOA)
Shopkeeper Ganesh Singh in Haridwar says efforts are being made to educate people about not throwing plastic and other waste in the river or along its banks. (A. Pasricha/VOA)

Ganesh Singh owns a shop at the famed “Har ki Pauri,” the most revered spot along the riverbank where people gather to attend the evening prayer, where the poor line up for free meals offered by devotees and where pavement sellers hawk flowers.

He said there have been efforts to educate the people about not dumping waste into the river. “Many polythene bags, bottles, garbage used to be thrown into the river earlier. It is better now,” he said, gazing at the river, happy that it helps draw in more tourists who bring more business.

However just a few meters down from his shop, piles of rubbish dumped along the riverbank are getting slowly washed into the water with the rain.

That is why Mehta remains skeptical and worries the political will for the gigantic task is missing. “I am not talking about this leadership – it is for the last 32 years the same thing is going on,” he said. “It should not be just lip service that we are the sons and daughters of mother Ganga, without doing something.”

In a signal that he is aware the Ganges cleanup is flagging, Modi this month handed charge of the campaign to a senior cabinet minister, Nitin Gadkari, who has a reputation for getting the job done.

Devotees and environmentalists are hoping that will happen. (VOA)