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Jasmine Dispatch

Aravinda Eye Hospital - Helping India See The Light!
May 31, 2000

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Two examples of the conditions treated at the world's largest eye hospital
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As I got off the train in a city called Madurai in the state of Tamil Nadu, I was faced with a busy city with bumpy roads, sugarcane juice sellers at every corner, bulls eating garbage from trash heaps at random places along the sidewalks, and naked babies tugging on your sleeves. It was India's in-your-face presentation of struggle; struggle against poverty, disease, illiteracy and suffering.

But wait, let's take a step back for a moment. Imagine that all that I just described was your home. Imagine that your reality consisted of the sights and smells, the taste and the feel of India. Now take that one step further and imagine this being your reality and you being blind. For so many in India, that's no ill picture in a bad dream, it is real life. And when blindness strikes it's just one more obstacle that becomes a part of the everyday struggle to survive.

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Well, I was about to discover what that everyday struggle was like after visiting the Aravid Eye Hospital. I wondered how much of a challenge it would be to get to my destination. I didn't suppose the hospital name would be very well known in such a big city -- but I was wrong. The auto-rickshaw drivers knew exactly where to drop me. The ultra-modern facilities of Aravind Eye Hospital stood out against its dusty background.

When I hopped off the train in Madurai, I did not imagine that anyone in the town had heard of the Aravind Eye Hospital -- but, much to my surprise, everyone in town knows the place. You with me? Then it turns out that not only did everyone know the place, they know the doctor and they call him Dr. V. They know his story, but what's more, they probably know someone who can see because of this man's vision. No, he did not donate his eyes so others could see, but he lent his perseverance and his expertise to India with a dream that the world of suffering in his country could be eased a bit.

Vocabulary

perseverance:Dedication, his strong convictions and beliefs
ophthalmologist - An eye doctor
cataracts - An eye disorder that can cause poor vision of blindness
affliction - A cause of pain, suffering or distress
impeccable - Perfect

Aravind didn't get here overnight. It's taken 21 years to build up from operating out of a residential home to an internationally sought-after eye hospital. It boasts 4 locations throughout India, housing some 45 ophthalmologists, 56 residents, and 28 fellows training in the various specialty clinics. And not to mention 300 paramedical staff and 300 support staff.

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The hospital assists many patients cosmetically with fake eyes like this one
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So, if we total it all up we'll find that Aravind hospitals have performed a total of 751,107 surgeries since the hospital opened in 1976! What you may be surprised to find is that out of this, 63 percent were done free of cost to poor patients. Yes, totally free of cost! From the very beginning Dr. V has wanted to provide eye care to all of India, and that meant anyone who needed his help, poor and rich alike. Blindness has no respect of person. It attacks the cities and the villages, and Dr. V.'s mission was to launch a massive counter-attack.

In most cases, like with cataracts, patients are suffering from a curable affliction. The only thing keeping them from healthy vision is lack of money, or access to medical assistance. Not any more. Aravind not only provides medical treatment, including vision testing, diagnosis, check-ups, treatment, medicines, and even surgery, it goes out into the villages to care for patients who have no means to get to the hospital facility.

Aravind Eye Hospital is named after and dedicated to Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950), one of the most revered spiritual leaders of our time. Aurobindo is a Bengali pronunciation of the Sanskrit word 'Aravinda,' meaning lotus. Among his great wisdom he left behind this thought that stuck in my head: "Accept the world as God's theater; be thou the mask of the Actor and let Him act through thee. If men praise or hiss thee, know that they too are masks; and take God within for the only critic or audience." - Sri Aurobindo

Dr. V. calls them Eye Camps, and the hospital conducts 14 of these camps per week. Moving strategically to the surrounding villages, teams of medical technicians go into villages, register patients, and perform preliminary exams and initial diagnosis. If a patient needs further treatment, he or she is then transported, free of charge, to and from the hospital. And no one goes hungry! They can eat for free at the facility's canteen.

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for larger view
Aravind has the latest in laser technology. Am I in a hospital or an episode of
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How is the service? What about the technology? The service was impeccable. Patients in the free hospital were just as cared for as those in the paid hospital. Both facilities were bright, spotless and gleaming white. Many patients in India are very wary if undergoing surgery. But at Aravind eye patients can rest assured knowing they will receive treatment from highly skilled professionals utilizing the world's most modern eye-care equipment.

How does he do it?!? "Sheer volume," was his answer. The main hospital had 400 beds, and the free hospital has 600 beds. The sheer volume of paying patients, which ranges from those who can afford as little as ten dollars to those who pay the full amount, subsidizes the cost of the patients in the free hospital.

Relevant links:

EBAI focuses on providing better eye care & eye banking throughout India.

More information about Dr. V

What it comes down to is a heart for helping others. A capitalist system would say that as the hospital makes more money they charge more for their service. But, at Aravind as the hospital makes more it only gives more and helps more.

Thank you Dr.V for your extraordinary vision, your compassion for, and your willingness to Make A Difference!

If you believe it you can achieve it! How will you make a difference in your school? Family? Community? In our world?

Jasmine

p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...jasminehamlett@bigfoot.com
 

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