Have you ever closed your eyes and wondered what it would be like if you lost your vision? Persons blessed with good eyesight have difficultly imagining how they would cope with life if they were blind. Tragically, this is the sad reality for more than 45 million blind patients around the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that of this number, more than 15 million blind people live in India.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines a person as functionally blind when he or she is unable to perform the daily tasks required to survive. According to the standard set by WHO, a person is functionally blind when they cannot count fingers at a distance of 10 feet.
Blindness is a terrible burden for those in developing countries where it has such a profound impact on the quality of life for the blind person as well as their family and extended community.
Cureblindness.org reports, “In the developing world, a blind person is most often found living in a subsistence community or a squalid slum. In rural areas, a family member who becomes blind changes from being a contributor to a family burden. A husband cannot work in the fields, a mother cannot walk over rough terrain to take her goods to market, or collect water, and a child cannot attend school (if that is a possibility.) Not only can this blind individual no longer work but extra care is required from a family member who would otherwise be making a living or contributing to the community work force. The physical and emotional toll impacts not just the individual and family but the social and economic fabric of the communities and everyone’s existence. Sudden blindness of one individual in a family can become the tipping point for survival when they are impoverished to begin with.” Blind people are unable to care for themselves or contribute to the economic support of the family. For the very poor, blindness is an almost certain death sentence.
Eye injuries and cornea related disease are the most common causes of blindness worldwide, accounting for more than 4.5 million cases of blindness in India alone. WHO reports that of the 4.5 cases of cornea blindness in India, up to 90 percent of these patients are younger than 45 years of age. Within this total, more than 60 percent are young children under the age of 12 years old.
A war to eliminate blindness in India is being fought on many fronts. The ORBIS Foundation, an international humanitarian relief organization notes, “Twenty percent of the world’s blind children live in India. About 320,000 children under age 16 are blind or visually impaired. ORBIS is almost midway toward developing 50 fully equipped and properly staffed pediatric eye care centers in India. ORBIS is also addressing corneal disease and diabetic retinopathy in India.”
For more than 45 years, Sightsavers, has provided treatment for more than 51 million visually impaired persons in India and supported more than 4.7 million sight-restoring operations.
Billionaire Tej Kohli, generous philanthropist and founder of the Tej Kohli Foundation, which primarily focuses on treating curable blindness in India, states, “It’s a huge problem, but an entirely fixable one with the right interventions. Our active approach to philanthropy sees us working alongside experts on the ground to make sure as many people as possible can benefit from free health checks, glasses, treatments and surgery where necessary. We believe the benefits of restoring sight go farther than the treated individual: their family, their community and society as a whole benefits – and that’s where we see return on the investment.”
Throughout his stellar business career, Tej Kohli, affectionately known as TK to his family, friends and business associates, has aggressively implemented ambitious solutions to seemingly insolvable problems faced by business leaders worldwide. A compassionate awareness of the staggering number of cases of corneal blindness in India prompted Mr. Kohli to direct his problem solving abilities and financial resources to the task of eradicating blindness in his native homeland. Mr. Kohli stated, “If we raise awareness of the need for corneal donors we can overcome this tragedy and help make a big difference in the rest of these child’s lives.”
The grim plight of India’s blind children is commonly a result of malnutrition, the effect of fungal, bacterial or viral infections, caused by congenital disease or the result of an eye injury. Sadly, most cases of corneal blindness are preventable with early care. If the cornea is too damaged to work properly, corneal transplants are an option. Corneal transplant surgery has a demonstrated success rate of greater than 90 percent. It is a delicate operation to replace damaged opaque corneas with a clear and healthy cornea obtained from a human donor. That’s where the Tej Kohli Foundation has made such an impressive impact.
Tej Kohli states, “One of the aims of the Tej Kohli Foundation, and something I hold very dear, is to nurture the age-old traditions of charity, and social help. I want every person with whom I come into contact, whether they are students at the Foundation or senior executives in my businesses, to understand the purpose and position of philanthropy and social responsibility in the 21st century. Success should not be achieved – or celebrated – in isolation.”
Since 2010, the Tej Kohli Foundation has provided monthly grants to cover the cost of corneal transplants carried out by Niramaya, a Gurgaon based NGO. These generous grants provide not only for Gurgaon; they entail additional grants for each additional city in India in which the blindness intervention program expands. Indian health experts anticipate that by the end of 2013 the innovative humanitarian outreach will grant the gift of sight to tens of thousands of visually impaired persons.
The Tej Kohli Foundation notes, “Kohli is an international businessman and philanthropist, with a diverse portfolio of commercial and charitable operations in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and India. His business interests range from e-commerce and IT, to real estate and reconstructive and cosmetic surgery. The programs of Kohli foundation are comprised of passionate people committed to addressing the critical needs of young people in India, Costa Rica and beyond. By inspiring communities, states and nations, by motivating individuals and institutions, by supporting local leaders with programs and facilities at community level, we will make a difference in the lives of millions of children.”