Road fatalities are very common in Bangladesh. As many as 7,221 people died from road accidents in Bangladesh in 2018. Project Vision was initiated by the Junior Chamber International (JCI) Active Citizens to alleviate the situation by finding information on vision impairment and road accidents in Bangladesh.
JCI is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation of engaged citizens who want to solve real-world problems and bring about tangible change in their communities. They aimed to come up with a sustainable solution to the problem and reduce the risk of road fatalities resulting from vision impairment.
Fahimul Islam, secretary general of JCI Dhaka West, said, "Back in 2018, a few members from JCI Dhaka West and I sat down brainstorming as to how we can prevent or reduce bus accidents. One of the reasons I thought of was a vision screening of bus drivers. I quickly noticed that I had not seen any bus driver wearing glasses ever in Bangladesh. Why?" With this in mind, first phase of Project Vision was initiated.
In April 2018, a free eye-camp was organised at Mohakhali bus stand where more than 400 bus drivers and helpers went through eye check-ups, doctors’ consultations and given medical prescriptions. They received medicine free of charge, with surgeries and follow-ups at the bare minimum cost. The second phase of the effort-- Project Vision 2.0-- was conducted this year in April 2019 where it served more than 1,200 people in a two-day eye camp in city's Sayedabad bus terminal area. In this year’s eye camp, a survey conducted among 1,200 transport workers has brought startling findings to light.
Vision impairment could mean problems such as dry eye, blurred vision, headache, itching, and eyesight issues. 50 per cent of the people surveyed had eyesight issues (myopia or hypermetropia). Of the respondents, 94 per cent were aware of their eye problems, but 72 per cent said that they had never been to an eye specialist. The respondents agreed that proper eye care and checkup will increase road safety, and 87 per cent of them are willing to expand on vision treatment. 89 per cent of the bus drivers work more than 12 hours a day, and their vision is only worsened by the dust and polluted air of the city.
In Bangladesh, not a single respondent could be found who had their license revoked due to poor vision. However, globally, the situation is different. In the UK, 50,000 drivers had their licence revoked or refused for having a poor vision from the year 2012 to 2016. It is a cause for concern to JCI that Bangladesh does not implement similar standards for driving licences, and it could have an impact on the number of road accidents.
"Through the simple survey, we have gathered actual numbers on the current bus drivers’ eyesight condition. This data is probably the first of its kind in Bangladesh, where it is clear that more than 50 per cent of the active bus drivers have vision impairment," said Fahimul Islam. Wearing glasses has a stigma to it among the transport workers, thus making the circumstances graver. According to the Vision Impact Institute, globally, sixty per cent of accidents occur due to vision impairment. In India only, one out of every 80 road accidents is directly linked to vision impairment. In the UK, at least three thousand road fatalities have occurred due to poor vision. In Bangladesh, there is very little data available on the matter.
Safi Imon, president of JCI Dhaka West, acknowledged the joint effort of people involved, "JCI Dhaka West has been working with transport workers and their vision since 2018, and it wouldn't be possible to serve more than 1,600 professional drivers and workers in this industry without our partners. Almost ten partners helped us in this regard. For example - Sohoz Rides was our key financial sponsor as their CSR and Fashion Optics provided us with all the technical support here. We had BRAC as our strategic partner who helped us to shape up the survey we did on the events days. Data says the situation is very threatening. We also had Gazi, BNO, Bondstain Limited, NexParc, SWDP, and Radio Foorti as our partners. They played different major roles to fuel this initiative. I want to thank all our valued partners for supporting this initiative."
The Active Citizens of JCI want to spread awareness about the dangers of not using corrective remedies, engage the transport workers in eye care through regular check-ups, and change the policies regarding eye care in transport workers for a widespread impact on the situation. At a press conference organised by Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), it has been recommended that the government make eye examinations mandatory especially for drivers. Eye examinations before getting a driver's licence or before renewing it, minimising the period between licence renewals, and other steps can be taken to ensure that transport workers are getting the corrective eye care that they need. Proper implementation of proposed policy changes could bring about substantial change in the rates of road fatalities.
"We wish to continue this project in the days to come and hope to provide better service and sustainable solution to our bus driver community to make roads safer for everyone," said Fahimul Islam.
The writer is a second year student of BBA programme at IBA, University of Dhaka. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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