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 Children  India Project #26675

Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India

by Project Prakash Foundation
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India
Bring Sight to Blind Children in Rural India

Image caption:

A: Locations of Prakash pediatric ophthalmic screening camps conducted so far. B & C: A child’s eye, before and after removal of a congenital cataract. D & E: Scientific studies to characterize visual development following late sight onset. F: The human benefit: four individuals who were born blind and were treated by Project Prakash have gained visual function and independence.

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For most scientific enterprises, societal benefits are realized long after the research effort. However, in rare instances, even the process of conducting research directly benefits people’s lives. We have been fortunate that in Project Prakash we have been able to identify and operationalize one such instance. The overarching mission of Project Prakash is to bring light into the lives of curably blind children and, in so doing, illuminate some fundamental scientific questions about how the brain develops and learns to see. Hence, the Project represents a confluence of humanitarian service and basic science.

India is home to one of the world’s largest populations of blind children. It is estimated that nearly 400,000 children in the country are either blind or severely visually impaired. The visual handicap, coupled with extreme poverty greatly compromises the children’s quality of life; childhood mortality rates are greatly elevated and prospects for education are severely diminished. Project Prakash seeks to identify and treat blind children, and simultaneously, build awareness amidst the rural populace regarding treatable and preventable blindness.

Embedded in the humanitarian aspect of Project Prakash is an unprecedented opportunity to study one of the deepest scientific questions: How does the brain learn to extract meaning from sensory information? The humanitarian initiatives of Project Prakash are creating a remarkable population of children across a wide age-range who are just setting out on the enterprise of learning how to see. The Prakash researchers have been following the development of visual skills in these unique children to gain insights into fundamental questions regarding object learning and brain plasticity. This is a unique and unprecedented window into some of the most fundamental mysteries of how the brain learns to extract meaning from the world.

Over the past year, with support from several individual donors and organizations, Project Prakash has conducted extensive rural outreach, which involves providing pediatric ophthalmic screening in remote regions of India with limited medical access. In 2-3 screening camps per month, teams of optometrists, ophthalmologists, social counselors and field health workers have evaluated children on multiple dimensions of eye health. The majority need and receive outpatient care (refractive correction, eye drops for infections). Those with congenital blindness are brought to New Delhi, where they undergo thorough ophthalmic examination to assess if their blindness is treatable. Following consent, each child is provided free high-quality surgical treatment, and stays at the hospital for several days to ensure good clinical care during recovery. After discharge, children are asked to return for follow-up assessments. Contingent on parent/child consent, the children participate in scientific studies during each hospital stay (medical treatment is never contingent on agreement to participate). So far, we have screened ~43,000 children, provided surgeries to over 460, and non-surgical care to over 1400. Our studies have yielded a rich body of literature regarding several aspects of post-operative visual development.

One of the most far-reaching results from Project Prakash is evidence of recovery even after prolonged congenital blindness. These findings argue for a reconsideration of some long held conceptions regarding brain plasticity and time-lines of learning. Having followed the post-operative development of several children, my students and I have found that while some aspects of vision, such as acuity, are compromised by a history of deprivation, there is evidence of skill acquisition on a variety of functional vision tasks ranging from simple shape matching to object and face recognition. The human brain, these findings suggest, retains an ability to launch programs of visual learning well after the normal period of their deployment has passed. These results have significance for basic neuroscience as well as the practice of pediatric ophthalmology and the implementation of late stage blindness treatment programs.

Over the course of this work, Project Prakash has revealed several sociological issues that came as surprises to us. For instance, we would never have expected that parents might actually prefer to have their child remain blind just so that they can stay enrolled in a school for the blind where they are provided with food and clothes. Yet, the level of poverty in some households is so extreme that this happens. Another surprise for us has been the difficulty Prakash children have encountered in entering the educational mainstream despite having sight. But, their age (too old to be enrolled in grade 1) often keeps them from starting their educational journey. This is indeed a tragedy and one that we have started working towards addressing. Whave just commenced an educational program to complement the medical and scientific missions of Project Prakash. This program will provide a ‘compressed’ educational course to the Prakash children to bring them up to an age-appropriate level so that they can then enter the regular educational stream. In addition, we shall impart vocational skills to the children with an eye towards facilitating their journey to eventual financial independence.

Project Prakash continues to be a remarkably fulfilling enterprise for all of us on the team. It is hard to describe the happiness surrounding the transition of a blind child to the world of sight. We hope that in the years to come, we shall be able to bring the gift of sight to all children languishing with treatable blindness. And, in bringing light into their lives, we are sure to bring light into our own.

Eye care screening in India
Eye care screening in India
Advancing a Humanitarian Purpose and Scientific Query 

Since the start of the year, Project Prakash has screened dozens children from across India. Our team has conducted many eye care camps across the northern swaths of India where poverty is most acute. Through our screenings, we have met with families with multiple members suffering from bilateral cataracts. We have traveled into the interiors of north-central India to meet and counsel with families, such as one who have multiple children suffering from bilateral cataracts and were faced with the difficult choice between food and healthcare.

Furthering Our Understanding of Vision 

Project Prakash earned 1st runner up prize for "Best Poster" Presentation at Vision 2020 13th Annual Conference in Raipur in 2017 as well. 

Project Prakash has been active in vision research since its inception and continues to publish in the field.  

Expanding Our Team 

These advancements would not be possible without the support of a talented on-the-ground team in India.

Over the last year, Project Prakash made key hires to further our mission. Over the next six months, our goal is to keep journeying into villages, slums and rural regions to identify, screen and operate on more children. We remain committed to excellence in research to ultimately share those findings with the world.

Thank you again for your support. Onward to the second half of the year. We're glad you're with us.  

Children During An Eye Camp
Children During An Eye Camp
Prakash children
Prakash children
Getting His Eyes Checked
Getting His Eyes Checked
One last photo...
One last photo...

Project Prakash: More Children Served, More Advancements

Over the last 11 months, Project Prakash has operated on more than 62 children, identified new areas in India in which to hold eye care camps and published papers in leading journals. 

We are proud of these achievements, and even prouder to have you by our side. 

Mission Meets Impact

Since the start of the Global Giving campaign, Project Prakash has screened more than 2,800 children from across India. Our team has conducted 30 eye care camps across the northern swaths of India where poverty is most acute. Through our screenings, we have met with families with multiple members suffering from bilateral cataracts. We have traveled into the interiors of north-central India to meet and counsel with families, who are faced with the difficult choice between food and healthcare.

Bottom line: We are holding more camps, screening more children and bringing them into the Prakash Center in Delhi for life-altering eye care and surgeries. The results are life-changing for them and life-affirming for us. 

Furthering Our Understanding of Vision

Through the support of donors, Project Prakash also held its first symposium on vision at IIT-Delhi in January. The event attracted students, vision scientists and doctors interested in vision and Project Prakash. 

Project Prakash earned 1st runner up prize for "Best Poster" Presentation at Vision 2020 13th Annual Conference in Raipur earlier this month. 

Project Prakash has been active in vision research since its inception and continues to publish in the field. 

Expanding Our Team 

These advancements would not be possible without the support of a talented on-the-ground team in India.

Over the last year, Project Prakash made three key hires to further our mission. Support for their salaries comes from a different grant. 

Over the next six months, our goal is to keep journeying into villages, slums and rural regions to identify, screen and operate on more children. We remain committed to excellence in research to ultimately share those findings with the world.

Thank you again for your support. Onward to 2018. We're glad you're with us. 

Her Family Couldn't Afford Her Surgery - And Had Nearly Given Up  

Editors Note: For an example of the children Project Prakash finds, read the following story. -Sheila B. Lalwani, Executive Director

Morena, Madhya Pradesh 
— A team of outreach workers and doctors set up camp in a city hours away from the capital region. 

The team had come to Morena, a city in central India known for high poverty and gaping lack of access to healthcare services. Over the last several years, Project Prakash has ventured further and further into the interiors of India in search of children with low vision and curable blindness.

The sounds of the adhan, or call to prayer, could be heard. Temple bells also rang. One by one, children lined up to get their eyes checked. Most of them had normal vision. Then, we met Anushka, a girl of 6.

Meeting Anushka: The Power Of Outreach

Born with compromised vision, Anushka didn't come from a family that could even afford three meals a day. Basic healthcare was out of the question. Most in her family had stopped schooling early, and the family barely scraped by. When people saw that Anushka needed help, they didn't know where to go.

Tragedy struck the family when her father died in an accident. As the sole breadwinner for the family, his passing left the family scrambling to survive. Like many widows in conservative India, Anushka's mother did not remarry and moved in with family. When the family heard about Project Prakash, they agreed to meet the outreach team. Over the years, Project Prakash has screened tens of thousand of children. Anushka was different because she came from a particularly disadvantaged family.

Going from Darkness to Light

After several consultations, Anushka arrived at the Prakash Center in Delhi.

She met with the surgeons who would operate on her eyes. The surgeons the next day corrected her vision. 

As Anushka recovered, she made frequent visits to the Prakash Center to interact with the team and play. 

"Her vision has improved significantly," program manager Ajay Chawariya said. 

Anuskha
Anuskha

Since the launch of Project Prakash GlobalGiving campaign, Project Prakash has operated on 10 additional children. We have also published an additional paper on public health and been featured in the Wall Street Journal for our pioneering work in neuroscience (see attached).

Morena, Madhya Pradesh — A team of outreach workers and doctors set up camp in a city hours away from the capital region. 

The team had come to Morena, a city in central India known for high poverty and gaping lack of access to healthcare services. Over the last several years, Project Prakash has ventured further and further into the interiors of India in search of children with low vision and curable blindness.

The sounds of the adhan, or call to prayer, could be heard. Temple bells also rang. One by one, children lined up to get their eyes checked. Most of them had normal vision. Then, we met Anushka, a girl of 6.

She is one of the children who's being helped through the GlobalGiving campaign. During March, Project Prakash began an ambitious program to provide surgeries for 25 children with curable blindness in India. 

Meeting Anushka: The Power Of Outreach

Through the Global Giving campaign, we aimed to help children. These children come very similar backgrounds: Households where $1.25 is the average daily income to support at least 6 people. Most of the households are headed by at least one parents who not had any education past the 8th grade - if that. 

Born with compromised vision, Anushka didn't come from a family that could even afford three meals a day. Basic healthcare was out of the question. Most in her family had stopped schooling early, and the family barely scraped by. When people saw that Anushka needed help, they didn't know where to go.

Tragedy struck the family when her father died in an accident. As the sole breadwinner for the family, his passing left the family scrambling to survive. Like many widows in conservative India, Anushka's mother did not remarry and moved in with family. When the family heard about Project Prakash, they agreed to meet the outreach team. Over the years, Project Prakash has screened tens of thousand of children. 

Going from Darkness to Light

After several consultations, Anushka arrived at the Prakash Center in Delhi.

She met with the surgeons who would operate on her eyes. The surgeons the next day corrected her vision. 

As Anushka recovered, she made frequent visits to the Prakash Center to interact with the team and play. 

"Her vision has improved significantly," program manager Ajay Chawariya said. 

Our hope is that Anushka will to thrive. In the meantime, Project Prakash will continue to screen, identify and perform surgeries on children, just like Anushka, who have curable blindness and need us. 

For more information on the work of Project Prakash, see attached article published in the Wall Street Journal.

Anuskha - 2
Anuskha - 2

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Organization Information

Project Prakash Foundation

Location: Cambridge, MA - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @projectpraksh
Project Leader:
Pawan Sinha
Founder
Cambridge, MA United States

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