March in 55 Indian cities on World Sight Day to push people to donate corneas
by Nirmala Carvalho

The biggest awareness campaign in the world is the brainchild of an Indian priest who in 2013 set up ‘The Project Vision’. In India 15 million people live with poor vision. Annually, 140,000 transplants are needed, but only 53,000 donors were found in 2015. Pope Francis sent a message to express his closeness.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Today is World Sight Day, and the largest awareness campaign for cornea donation is underway in 55 Indian cities across the country led by a Bangalore-based Christian group.

Titled ‘World Blind Walk’, the initiative by The Project Vision has participants marching down the streets blindfolded to increase awareness among as well as the number of potential donors in a country like India where demand is high, but only a third of all patients can get a cornea transplant.

Pope Francis expressed his support for the campaign in a message signed by Card Pietro Parolin.

In 2013, Fr George Kannanthanam, a Catholic priest, launched the project after working for 12 years with people who lost their sight to diseases like leprosy or HIV or with visual impairments from birth.

Speaking to AsiaNews, the clergyman said the idea came from Pope Francis’s call to “go towards the outskirts of existence” where the blind are waiting to see. For Fr George, the pontiff’s "powerful and prophetic voice has not come in vain."

Worldwide, some 39 million people have eye problems, 15 million of them in India. Their conditions are really "sad because of the physical, social, psychological and economic challenges" caused by their condition. Most disabled people cannot survive on their own.

Although demand is high, eye donations are not common in the country, which has 750 "eye banks". Every year, 140,000 people need a cornea transplant, but last year, there were only 53,000 donors.

A little less than 90,000 patients are on waiting lists, but the "good news is that 20 per cent of those who receive a transplant can see again.”

Union Minister for Social Justice and Development Thawar Chand Gehlot, and the Health Ministers of Arunachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Telangana took part in the event.

Church leaders were also present at various locations along the march route. Various dioceses, parishes, religious congregations, social services and bishops confirmed their presence.

Fr George Kannanthanam is no stranger to this type of initiative. Last year, he convinced some 60 nuns to act as ‘vision ambassadors’.  "Our goal is to do more to bridge the gap between supply and demand."