Give the Gift of Sight to the poor in India

 
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Dr. Usha with patients in Aravind
Dr. Usha with patients in Aravind's cancer clinic.

Dear friends,

This spring, the Aravind Eye Foundation traveled to India to visit our colleagues at the Aravind Eye Care System.  It was a jam-packed two weeks – in Madurai, we met with Dr. Usha and every member of Aravind’s retinoblastoma team – experts in treatment and research for this devastating childhood eye cancer. We went to Pondicherry and heard about plans to screen 500,000 school children for vision problems.   And, we met many patients who have benefited from your generosity and concern. 

One day above all sticks in my mind.  It started with a celebratory meeting with Dr. Usha – we had just completed a successful fundraising campaign to fully equip the genetic testing lab.  We were feeling pretty proud of ourselves! 

My next stop was a visit to the children’s ward within the cancer clinic. There were several kids of various ages receiving follow-up chemotherapy.  And, there was a beautiful five-month-old baby girl, whose parents had brought her in that morning. The family was devastated and confused to learn that their only daughter had eye cancer.  She had to be treated immediately, or she would lose her eyes and possibly her life.  Worst of all, her parents had no idea how they were going to pay for it.

I left that room feeling miserable and thinking about my own healthy children at home.

Later that day, Dr Usha came rushing through the hall and grabbed my arm.  She said they had convinced the parents to go through with surgery and that she was going to operate the next morning. “And, thanks to the Aravind Eye Foundation,” she said, “All her treatment will be free.” 

It is really thanks to you – our donors – that the baby received the care that she needed.  You are part of the Aravind team, helping rid the world of needless blindness.   Thank you for your generous support!

Donna Campbell, Executive Director, Aravind Eye Foundation

"Intelligence and capability are not enough. There must be the joy of doing something beautiful."
From the journals of Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy, founder of Aravind Eye Care Systems. 

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Rajameenakshmi attends Virudhunagar Hindu Nadar Primary School in Madurai, not far from the famous Meenakshi Amman temple.  She's nine years old and wants to be an engineer.  She's also a serious carrom player, which looks like a combination of checkers and table shuffleboard to the uninitiated.  

Ten-year-old Mohammed is a student at VHN, too.  He loves cricket and drawing.  When he grows up, he's going to be a district collector -- that's the chief adminstrator for district government.  A very important job! 

Both children have big plans and are working hard in school to get good grades.  But three months ago, they were having trouble with some of their schoolwork.  Why?  They couldn't see the blackboard clearly. 

That's when Aravind's Spectacles for Scholars team came to their school, and tested the students' eyesight -- about four percent of the class needed eyeglasses, including Rajameenakshmi and Mohammed.  Now they are back on track to fulfill their dreams.

Last year, Aravind screened 500,000 school children and provided 15,000 glasses to children with poor eyesight -- thanks in part to your donations.  A pair of eyeglasses costs about 450 rupees -- a little over $7 -- but no one can put a price on being able to see!   And, we're just getting started -- with your help, we are planning to screen 5 million children by 2020. 

Thank you from all of us at the Aravind Eye Foundation for your generous and thoughtful support.  Please contact us if you would like to know more about the Spectacles for Scholars programs or if you have comments or suggestions.  We always want to hear from our friends.

With gratitude,

Donna Campbell, Exectutive Director, Aravind Eye Foundation

P.S.  Please enjoy this video about Spectacles for Scholars and meet Mohammed and Rajameenakshmi! 

Links:

Santhosh and his mother at Aravind Eye Hospital.
Santhosh and his mother at Aravind Eye Hospital.

Six-year-old Santhosh is the only child of a poor fishing family from Rameswaram, a remote village located at the very tip of India. He was diagnosed with retinoblastoma -- eye cancer -- during his first visit to Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai a year ago.  At first, his parents tried alternative forms of healing to cure his cancer, but his tumor grew worse.  Finally, they returned to Aravind to seek medical help.  

A full-course of treatment for eye cancer -- surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, custom-made prosthetic eyes, and counselling -- costs $1000. Santhosh's family could never afford the treatment on a fisherman's wages.  But thanks to people like you, his treatment was completely free.  Today, his tumor has regressed, and Santhosh and his family face a brighter future. His cancer is probably cured, but Aravind doctors will monitor his health for many years to come to make sure that he remains cancer-free. 

Retinoblastoma is a blinding, disfiguring, often fatal cancer that strikes children under age five. In the United States, retinoblastoma is 90% curable -- in India, 90% of children die, because diagnosis and treatment come too late.  

Dr. Usha runs Aravind's pediatric cancer division.  “Some of these children are so resilient,” says Dr. Usha.  “I’ve cried at work on so many different occasions, and I’ve lost patients at every stage.  But I know we have to keep doing what we can.  Someone has to fight for these patients.  We have seen how we can make a difference, but there is still a lot to do.” 

There is still a lot to do -- but thank you for all you have done.  Your gift saves sight and life.

I wish you a joyous and beautiful 2015.  

Donna Campbell, Executive Director, Aravind Eye Foundation

"Intelligence and capability are not enough. There must be the joy of doing something beautiful."
From the journals of Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy, founder of Aravind Eye Care Systems.

Links:

Registration at one of Aravind
Registration at one of Aravind's 2600 Eye Camps

Aravind is always looking for more effective ways to reach patients – it’s one of our biggest challenges in our mission to eliminate needless blindness.  More than 70% of India’s population still lives in rural areas, with little access to eye care.  Usually, there is no resident eye doctor, and a cataract patient might travel 250 miles to have surgery. 

 From the beginning of Aravind Eye Care System in the 1970s, its founder, Dr. G. Venkataswamy, traveled to rural villages to bring eye care to the rural poor.  His early efforts have evolved into an enormous community outreach effort; in 2014, we screened more than 558,000 people through 2600 eye camps.

Eye camps provide essential care to people living in the most remote, poorest parts of the country.  We work in close partnership with community organizers to publicize the camps.   Aravind doctors and nurses travel to rural villages to examine patients, treat common ailments, prescribe glasses, and recommend surgery for those who need it. 

Today, about one-third of Aravind’s surgical patients come from eye camps.  But in the early days, a lot of people didn’t show up for their “free” surgeries.  Why not?   

It turns out “free” can be very expensive to the average Indian worker, who has to pay for transportation and take off time from work, losing a day’s wages.  A blind beggar told us, “Your ‘free’ surgery costs me 100 rupees.”

We learned that we had to address all the barriers that people might face in accessing eye care – even when it’s free!  So, Aravind revised the eye camp program to include transportation to and from the hospital, food and medicines, and a follow-up visit in their village at no cost to the patient.   Now more than 80% of patients who are diagnosed with cataracts at an eye camp come to Aravind Hospital for surgery and receive the gift of sight!

Cataract patients at Aravind
Cataract patients at Aravind's Free Hospital
Kids from the Retinoblastoma Wing
Kids from the Retinoblastoma Wing

The following is a postcard from Neeharika Tummala, GlobalGiving's In-the-Field Representative in India, about her recent visit to Aravind Eye Foundation.

Aravind is a center that I have always wanted to visit given its famous work in cataract surgeries. They are a known worldwide for their processes and training that allow them to do a cataract surgery in minutes, allowing them to serve hundreds of patients everyday for free. But this particular project funds some of the most expensive surgeries in eye care – surgeries for retinoblastoma, which typically affects children under the age of 5. I was most surprised by the fact that the 4 families I met were from all over India, coming from as far as Jharkhand, which is 3 states north! When I asked them as to why Aravind, they said that they were recommended by their local doctors and had heard about the affordability and the quality of care. I even met a family from Orissa, a state two states north, who travel back and forth for chemo treatments.

I was really touched by the stories of the families whose children had either already had surgery or were undergoing chemotherapy. One of the kids there, who was undergoing chemo, looked completely normal, without any bulge seen by the eye, which is typically the tumor. The father was completely conflicted as he wanted to prolong chemo in the hope of saving his sons eye, versus surgery which the doctors have recommended. He told me ‘it’s so hard to opt for surgery that will make my son potentially loose sight when he still has 20/20 vision and it doesn’t look like there is anything wrong with him’. It made me realize how difficult the entire ordeal is for families, which makes it all the more important to have a great support team around you. All the families had only good things to say about the Aravind doctors and nurses and I couldn't agree more. 

The kid with 20-20 vision and retinoblastoma
The kid with 20-20 vision and retinoblastoma

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Project Leader

Chitra Prasad

Project contact
Madurai, Tamil Nadu India

Where is this project located?

Map of Give the Gift of Sight to the poor in India