It is indeed alarming to hear that four percent of
schoolchildren in Sri Lanka suffer from some kind of eye defect.
According to a news item we carried yesterday, quoting Deputy
Director General, Public Health Dr. Palitha Maheepala, over
160,000 children suffer from different types of visual defects.
It has been found that schoolchildren from all social classes
suffer from visual defects. The most common eye diseases in Sri
Lanka are Cataracts, Glaucoma and eye ailments associated with
Unfortunately, some of these children eventually go blind.
This is a pathetic situation because most eye ailments can be
treated to prevent blindness. They do not have to spend their
lives in darkness if they seek treatment early. In some cases,
the solution could be as simple as wearing spectacles for life.
Sri Lanka commenced a program in 2000 to upgrade eye care
facilities countrywide and a five-year plan was formulated. We
are told that the program is being conducted in collaboration
with the International Eye savers Association and Vision 2020.
One must not lose sight of the fact that children are the
future of the country. Saving their eyesight must be given
priority. But the program seems to be moving rather slowly, in
contrast to the urgent need to save their eyesight. Only around
1,000 students have received spectacles last year.
It will take several years to attend to the needs of all
children with visual problems if the program continues at this
pace. What is required is a swifter response to this challenge,
as the students' future is at stake. Health authorities should
not be so blind as not to see the impact that inaction can have
on the student population.
Another negative aspect is that research on eye diseases and
blindness is lacking in Sri Lanka. The lacuna has negatively
affected the health of the nation. It is generally believed that
low levels of nutrition contribute to visual impairments, but
more research is needed to come to a definite conclusion.
More rural hospitals should be equipped with eye care
facilities so that residents do not have to travel to Colombo
for even minor eye ailments.
The Government should consider setting up an 'Eyecare Fund'
to help poor patients to get spectacles and undergo certain eye
operations. The media should be used extensively to educate the
people on eye care, eye diseases and how to prevent blindness.
The eyes are our windows to the world and protecting eyesight
should be a priority.
It was always known that the LTTE has international
links. Many countries have banned the LTTE, which is believed to
have clandestine operations in Tamil Nadu, South East Asia and
several other parts of the world. Now with the Security Forces
knocking on the gates of Mullaitivu, several countries are
facing another spectre: Velupillai Prabhakaran himself.
The whereabouts of Prabhakaran and his next moves are the
subjects of intense speculation in the media and among the
ordinary people. Is he still holed up in a deep underground
bunker as the Forces surround all LTTE facilities or has he
already fled Sri Lanka? Is any country sympathetic to the Tigers
giving him asylum?
These are unanswered questions, but the Security Forces would
do everything in their power to capture Prabhakaran, a man who
has brought untold misery on the Sri Lankan people, mostly on
the very community that he claimed to 'liberate'. Sri Lankan
courts have already sentenced him to 200 years in jail for the
Central Bank bombing and a number of other atrocities.
Has he gone to neighbouring India? Rumours are afloat in
Tamil Nadu that Prabhakaran has crossed the Palk Straits to
India to recuperate from wounds inflicted by the Army. Following
the rumours, the Tamil Nadu government has strengthened the law
and order machinery to check all hospitals across the state for
persons with unexplained wounds.
Tamil Nadu has every reason to be concerned - Prabhakaran is
wanted in India over the assassination of former Prime Minister
Rajiv Gandhi. Besides, the LTTE is still active in Tamil Nadu
and it might not be difficult to find a safe house there for
Malaysia has also sounded an alert for the LTTE leader
Velupillai Prabhakaran after reports that he may have entered
the country. Thailand too is considered as another country,
which Prabhakaran may try to enter.
The Malaysian Police Chief had ordered a nationwide alert and
tighter security at all entry/exit points. However, these might
not be the only countries where he could try to go.
If Prabhakaran has not already gone, it will certainly be
difficult for him to escape.
The Navy is maintaining an effective blockade and the Air
Force are engaged in constant reconnaissance over the Mullaitivu
skies. The Army, of course, is closing in on his lair. But one
thing is certain - no country can and should provide shelter to
Prabhakaran, who has an international Interpol arrest warrant
against him for countless crimes against humanity.