Pawan Sinha

For a truly visionary approach to treating India’s blind

Andy Ryan/Arts at MIT/Flickr
Andy Ryan/Arts at MIT/Flickr

PAWAN SINHA

Founder, Project Prakash and Professor of Vision and Computational Neuroscience, MIT

India

More than a decade ago, Pawan Sinha, an Indian neuroscientist who works at MIT, was visiting New Delhi when he came upon a profoundly distressing sight. For all the poverty and deprivation he had seen on the streets of India's cities, he had never seen this: a group of children, all blind from cataracts, begging in the streets. He asked questions, and soon learned that India is home to nearly 30 percent of the world's blind population, and that a child born in remote and rural India has almost no chance to receive the cataract surgery that might restore sight.

“The first thing that prompted me was seeing those children, and then seeing the numbers," Sinha said. "The humanitarian goal was just so evident.” From that day, Sinha resolved to use his knowledge — he is a Professor of Vision and Computational Neuroscience, meaning he studies how our brain interprets what our eyes see — to help those children. In short, to bring eyesight to the sightless and, in the process, to further our understanding of the brain.

In 2003, Sinha founded Project Prakash, which means "light" in Sanskrit. Prakash has conducted eye-care camps in remote and underserved regions of India that now provide free eye-health screenings to all children, and identify and treat those whose blindness is treatable. More than 40,000 children have been screened; nearly 500 have had their sight surgically restored, and 1,400 more have had their eyesight helped via non-surgical means. Now Sinha is building the Prakash Center for Children in India, where a pediatric hospital, research facility and school for children will continue the pursuit of a mission born on that day in New Delhi, more than a decade ago.