The Seafarers' Home Kandla is currently running an initiative which offers free eye tests to seafarers calling at the port. Joseph Chacko, of the Kandla Seafarers' Welfare Association, tells us more about the initiative.
What exactly does the initiative entail?
"The Free Eye and Ear Tests initiative is greatly needed, as the Seafarers work in a very rough/tough weather conditions at sea and in port and over time their eyes can become damaged due to the chemicals, hazardous cargos and dusts being transported. We felt that it is necessary for seafarers to regularly get their eyes checked up, so that if any deficiency it can be corrected or rectified at an early stage. Also free ear testing with an Audiometer will shortly be set up, which will be useful for seafarers working in engine rooms."
What inspired the initiative?
"Seafarers nowadays have far fewer opportunities to get shore passes to visit the nearest town; they also have less free time due to ships having faster turn-around times. Therefore, seafarers often cannot easily access healthcare or other facilities, nor get a chance to get their eyes and ears tested. However, the Seafarers' Home is located inside the port of Kandla, so it is easy for the Seafarers to get their eyes and ears checked there. Hence the initiative was born."
When did the initiative begin and how long is it intended to run for?
The eye testing machine was put into operation in Kandla on 21st December, 2015, and a total of 135 Seafarers made use of the facilities. Six seafarers suffering from AMD (Age-Related Muscular Degeneration) were detected, as well as one seafarer suffering from glaucoma. The initiative is intended to run indefinitely, and we hope it encourages other seafarer centres around the world to take up similar initiatives."
What is the initiative's goal?
"To enhance safety at sea with free eye examinations for seafarers working on the bridge, especially in watch-keeping and look-out duties, and with free examinations of ears for seafarers working in the engine rooms."
Who runs the initiative?
"The Sailors' Society, one of the largest seafarer support charities operating internationally, funded the free sight and hearing test machines. It supports their wider Wellness at Sea programme by proactively seeking to improve seafarers' physical health and well-being. The machine itself is run by the staff of Seafarers Home, Kandla. Kandla Seafarers Welfare Association(KSWA) have tied with a local eye surgeon, then photos of any eyes suffering from key ailments are sent automatically by email. If required, the doctor will give advice on how to treat these ailments."
How does the machine work?
"The machine is a non-invasive imaging device that takes a picture of the eye and can detect the five major ailments that lead to 90% of blindness - diabetic retinopathy, cataract, glaucoma, cornea problems and refractive errors. The device can fit into a suitcase and weighs about 15 kg, far less than traditional equipment. The machine can take images in a matter of minutes.
Operators have to be just semi-skilled with a working knowledge of the anatomy of the eye. The images are automatically stored on Amazon's cloud service. Specialists and doctors on the company's database, based on geographical location, are notified via email if the patient has a problem, and patients can seek immediate treatment if necessary."
How many seafarers do you hope will benefit from the initiative?
"We hope to reach roughly 2000 to 3000 seafarers in a year. Currently, we have one paramedical staff member and very soon we plan to add one more staff member. Future plans are to take the eye testing machine to the nearby villages where the seafarers and their families are located and organize Free Eye Testing Camps by employing the services of an eye surgeon."