Give the Gift of Sight to the poor in India

Oct 7, 2014

When Free is Expensive!

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
Aug 26, 2014

Aravind patients come from all over India

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
Jul 15, 2014

A big thank you from the team at Aravind's Ring of Hope!

10th Anniversary of Aravind
10th Anniversary of Aravind's Ring of Hope!

One of the most impressive people that I've ever met is Dr. Usha, the founder of Aravind's Ring of Hope.  Ring of Hope provides free treatment to kids with retinoblastoma (an often fatal form of eye cancer).  This year the Ring of Hope is ten years old and has treated 1300 patients and provided on-going counseling to the patients and their families.  All free of charge, thanks to your donations.  

Dr. Usha and her team have helped many patients recover from eye cancer, but sometimes children do lose their sight, sometimes their lives.  "Sometimes, I go into my office and cry," said Dr. Usha.  

One such patient was Christina -- just two-years old, when she first came to Aravind.  She was diagnosed with retinoblastoma in both eyes.  Her father was a daily wage worker in Dindigul, Tamil Nadu, in southern India, making about $1 a day, and her mother was a housewife.  Neither were educated.  In India, a full treatment for retinoblastoma (chemotheraphy, surgery, radiation, possible prosthetics) costs about $1000 per eye.  Definitely beyond the means of Christine's family.  

Ultimately, both eyes had to be removed to save Christina's life. She was fitted with custom-made prosthetic eyes, and she and her family received counseling from Aravind.  All her treatment expenses were met through the Ring of Hope, and she continues her follow-up every year at Aravind without fail.  Christina is now seven years old, and in her second  year in a school for the blind. She is renowned for her beautiful singing voice.

Dr. Usha, her team, and I send a big thank you for helping Christina and other children like her.  This is the tenth anniversary of the Ring of Hope -- what do you think we should do to celebrate?  Can you help?  

Warmest regards, Donna Campbell,

Executive Director, Aravind Eye Foundation


Apr 15, 2014

Ten years of sight and hope! Thank you!

Thank you for your gift of sight!
Thank you for your gift of sight!

You probably think that your donation helps one blind person, maybe two or three.  Wrong!  

Blindness affects an entire family.  If a father is blind, his family has no livelihood.  If a grandmother is blind, someone needs to stay home from school or work to take care of her.  If a child is blind, she may never go to school, get a job, or get married.  Your donation goes much, much farther than you think.  

Now in its tenth year, Aravind's Ring of Hope Fund pays for treatment of patients -- primarily children -- who suffer from retinoblastoma, a life and sight-threatening form of eye cancer.  Last year, 430 patients received free surgery, chemotherapy and radiation and custom-prostheses, bringing the total number of patients helped to more than 1300.  Thank you!  

Aravind provides not only free treatment to the patient, but support to the whole family.  Often patients come to Aravind with other family troubles – unemployment, other illnesses, money problems – the doctors and sisters at Aravind bring hope to everyone involved.

Sathish and his family are a typical Ring of Hope story.  His parents brought Sathish to Aravind Eye hospital when he was just two years old.  Both eyes were affected with retinoblastoma, and his left eye had to be removed to keep the cancer from spreading.  Around the same time Sathish’s father was diagnosed with stomach cancer and died shortly thereafter. 

Sathish and his mother were devastated by his father’s death – and left without an earning member of the family.   Under these difficult conditions, Sathish’s mother found it nearly impossible to continue his treatment.  Ring of Hope stepped in and paid for all Sathish’s treatment expenses, plus the family’s food and travel.  Sathish was fitted with a custom prosthetic to replace his left eye, and received chemotherapy to save his right eye.  

Today, Sathish is free from cancer and excelling in second grade.  His mother passed her government exams, and was appointed Village Administrative Officer.   The family is grateful to Global Giving donors who helped them through a very tough time.

Jan 14, 2014

When did you last see your eye doctor?

Hopefully, in the last 12 months. Even simple eye conditions can lead to loss of sight if left untreated. 

More than 70% of India’s population lives in rural areas, with little access to eye care.  Usually there is no resident eye doctor, and you might have to travel 200 miles to have your vision checked or to buy eyeglasses. 

This is why Aravind created the Spectacles for Scholars program.  Last year, Aravind’s Spectacles for Scholars program screened 40,000 plus children and provided eyeglasses for more than 5,000 students, who could not afford them otherwise. But that is really the tip of the iceberg!  The World Health Organization estimates that worldwide more than 12 million children, ages 5 to 15, are visually impaired and need to have glasses. 

Originally, our Spectacles for Scholars program could only serve schools near our Madurai hospital. But thanks to your generous donations, we have expanded the program to our hospitals in Coimbatore, Salem and Theni.   Aravind doctors and nurses provide free screening of school children and also train teachers to recognize the signs of poor vision, before it starts to affect a child's academic performance.  Often, the results are miraculous -- a child goes from failing in school to straight A's just because he can see the chalk board or she can read her text book.  

In 2014, we will be expanding the program to all ten of our hospitals in southern India, more than doubling the number of children screened and ensuring that more than 10,000 children receive new eye glasses.   We hope we can count on your support to help us reach this ambitious goal! 

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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