1.4 million children worldwide go blind, the commonest cause being Vitamin A deficiency.
250 million school children suffer from Vitamin A deficiency.
In India, there are about 320,000 blind children. This is more than any other country in the world. Preventing blindness in children is a priority since it can affect their development, mobility, education and employment opportunities. These are children who live on a handful of rice daily, and have never seen milk, eggs and butter. It’s a shame that in a world of plenty, one billion children and women suffer from nutritional deficiencies. We talk about ending hunger, but hunger is not simply about ‘feeling hungry’. When food is of poor quality and small in quantity, children suffer stunting, recurrent infection, poor school performance, even blindness. Vitamin A deficiency also causes increased susceptibility to infections and higher infant deaths. Undernutrition causes irreversible damage to both individuals and society. Malnutrition is both the cause and the result of poverty, disease, and inequality.
"There are many challenges that the needy must overcome, and its not easy. These are lack of awareness, out of pocket expenses, lack of effective last miles for health" says Dr Radhika Batra, MD. "I believe that providing access to health care is one of the biggest challenges worldwide, and this must be overcome if we want to achieve health for all. All over the world, governments have made huge health infrastructures. Unfortunately, last mile connectivity is missing. This is true very much in developing countries, but also in developed countries where there are many social groups that are marginalized, such as the Romas of Europe or indigenous people everywhere. An example for this is vaccination. In spite of India's universal immunization program, less than 43% of the children are fully vaccinated. Home deliveries are common. Women are unaware of free vaccines and their benefits, and there is no one to help. They are intimidated by public hospitals. Time and money is spent in commuting. All this results in poor vaccine uptake by disadvantaged communities. Vitamin A is part of the Universal Immunisation Programs of almost every country, inspite of that we have a such a huge number of children going blind. We must hang our heads in shame. I am passionate about providing health facilities at grassroot level, so no one has to miss work and wages to get health benefits. I believe that front line local health workers can be trained to carry out essential health related activities, such as preventing blindness, ensuring vaccines, giving iron and folic acid to expectant mothers, giving advice to young mothers on diet, nutrition, breast feeding, and so much more. I also feel that doctors much step out of their ivory towers and serve the needy. Doctors have the clinical skills, judgement, networking abilities and fundraising capacity, and they must use their expertise for the benefit of the disadvantaged."
"As a pediatrician, I have seen first hand the injustice meted out to women and girls, says Dr Batra. "The girl child is neglected when it comes to health and education. Girls are given less food than boys. Boys get lentils and vegetables; girls get rice. Female feticide has been rampant for a long time in my country. All this left a lasting impression on my mind and motivated me to work for gender equality, especially in the field of health. Providing the gift of sight is the first step towards women’s independence. Women are denied opportunities, and the situation is much worse if she is blind. A girl who has the gift of sight gets education, jobs, entrepreneurship and leadership opportunities."