Vision 2020 losing sight of its objectives?

By Dilanthi Jayamanne

The People’s Movement for Patients Rights (PMPR) yesterday warned that donors would not continue supporting the Vision 2020 (V2020) project if it was withdrawn from the purview of the Health Ministry.

Addressing the media on Monday (13) PMPR Spokesman, Lawyer M. Chandralal said the donors had received written information that the programme would be handed over to the College of Ophthalmologists of Sri Lanka (COSL) and carried out under the purview of the National Eye Hospital. The programme mainly targeted under privileged persons suffering from avoidable blindness. He said under the project over 50,000 cataract surgeries had been performed from the time the programme was launched in 2007.

Chadralal said the donors had even launched a walk from Batticaloa to Colombo to raise funds for a mobile state of the art clinic and surgical facility so that the V2020 programme could be taken to all parts of the country. "However, when we were about to hand it over to the Ministry we received information that a letter has been issued by the present Director General Health Services (DGHS), Dr Jayasundara Bandara stating that the programme would be shifted to the purview of the College of Opthalmologists."

The concerned lawyer said that all donors who contributed funds and their service towards the V2020 programme had their reservations regarding the move. There were issues as to whether the funds would be used only for the V2020 programme as there were several other eye care programmes which were also being carried out under the purview of the COSL.

Former DGHS Dr Palitha Mahipala had ensured that the programme went ahead without a hitch. However, even at that time there were officials in the Health Ministry as well as those involved in importing lenses who were hell bent on disrupting the project, he alleged.

Chandralal said that the lenses that were purchased by donors and patients were those which had been recommended by the doctors themselves. However, there were numerous occasions when patients were forced to purchase lenses which cost as much as Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000 for their cataract operations. Those were the very doctors who recommended the lenses to the Health Ministry in the first place.

The concerned lawyer said that it was wrong to expect poor patients to purchase such expensive lenses and urged the Ministry to continue and extend the programme to a national level like other prevention and control programmes.

Over, 100,000 Sri Lankan were completely blind due to cataract while 500,000 were partially blind. The Sri Lankan population was also an ageing one. Therefore the Health Ministry should ensure that the programme continued under its transparent leadership.

However when contacted the DGHS said that the Ministry had no intention of abandoning its hold on the V2020 programme. It would continue under the Ministry purview funded by the National Health Development Programme. Only the office of the V2020 programme would be shifted to the National Eye Hospital as it was better than isolating it in a building belonging to the Health Ministry. The programme would also be placed under the purview of the COSL as it was they, who had to perform surgeries in the end. All these were doctors attached to the Health Ministry so there was no undue cause for concern.

Responding to a question regarding the mobile eye clinic that was to be donated to the programm, Dr Bandara said there would have to be eye specialists to run the clinic. A driver and a cleaner alone won’t be enough.

The DGHS said he had only sent a letter to the V2020 office informing the doctor in charge of the Ministry’s decision. No written documentation was given to donors or anyone else, he said pointing that these were unfounded concerns of some self interested party.

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