Published: 24th October 2018
How this family of ophthalmologists in Gurugram is easing India's eye care burden
ACT's free services are primarily for the rural population, in remote parts of the district, where preference is given to the disabled, aged, women and children, in that order
When a visiting doctor from the USA met an ophthalmologist couple who had this dream of making eye care affordable, they decided to take a shot at it. And so, they attended to their first patient, under a banyan tree, in a village chaupal, on the outskirts of Delhi. The year was 1990 and the word spread from patient to patient. "Soon we had to acquire space where patients could come and avail eye care, on fixed days and at certain timings," says Dr Arun Sethi, an alumnus of the Institute of Ophthalmology, AMU, Aligarh, where his wife Dr Reena Sethi, too did her residency and post-graduation training. This was how Arunodaya Charitable Trust (ACT), an organisation which delivers eye care free of cost to rural India, started their journey.
The couple's fellowship in the community-based Aravind Eye Hospital, Madurai, led them to seriously consider community work, besides their practice in Delhi. "If you work for others, doors open from heaven — Arunodaya was invited by the trustees of a local temple, to establish an eye clinic near our area, and thus we got our first location. Soon enough, we had an overflow of needy, poor patients, and the clinic gradually expanded to a full floor in the adjacent complex. Soon we got to acquire a site in Gurugram," says Arun. "Our mentor Dr E W Jackson, always said that in business you plan, strategise and then implement. Whereas with charity projects, you first initiate, then see the impact, and if fruitful, charge ahead. We had a firm commitment, and that has helped us from 1990, and the fire is still there," he adds. Today, both their sons are ophthalmologists as well, as is one of their daughters-in-law. Apart from the family of five eye specialists, there are two more specialists who manage the camps, satellite clinics and the base hospital.
Delivering quality eye care to rural India: ADEH, the base hospital, is a unit of ACT, and is a self-sustaining tertiary eye care institute
The recipients of ACT's free services are the rural population, in remote parts of the district, where preference is given to the disabled, aged, women and children, in that order. All eye check-ups, medicines and spectacles, where indicated, are dispensed free of cost, and they are advised to have regular eye care every six months. Those requiring diagnostic or operative procedures, like a cataract surgery, are then transported or referred to the Arunodaya Deseret Eye Hospital (ADEH) if the patient desires. "The growth of the community-based eye care project led to the formation of a three-tier eye care system," explains Arun. "Tier 1 includes free Mobile Eye Care Services. CSR support and internal accruals finance this. Tier 2 has subsidised services, separate floor, high-quality eye care, in a simple but aesthetic environment. the third tier includes paid floors for regular patients, who pay slightly less than the benchmark cost. We explain it to them that the surplus, if any, will be used for the poor."
ADEH, the base hospital, is a unit of ACT, and is a self-sustaining tertiary eye care institute, located off the Golf Course Road, in Sector-55, Gurugram. They have also applied for grants and CSR support for capital investment in equipment, etc. "However, CSR, as well as international grants, are scarce and sporadic, so Arunodaya is striving to be self-reliant in all its activities," says Arun.
Arunodaya is poised to be at the cutting edge of eye care delivery systems, innovation in low-cost health care, apps for screening in Diabetic Retinopathy, Glaucoma, etc, providing quality eye care across all sections of our society, in our area of operation, research collaborations with international universities, international NGO's. ACT and ADEH have reached out to nearly 1.5 million needy patients, till date, and we hope to help restore the sight of many more
Dr Arun Sethi, Founder, Arunodaya Charitable Trust