The Sankara Eye Hospital, which started up in Coimbatore as a small community eye care movement, now serves a population of over 15 million people
With over 40,000 eye operations every year and a rural outreach camp every week, the Sankara Eye Hospital in Coimbatore has become a model institution offering sight to thousands of rural people. The hospital is on track to achieving its goal of 'Vision 20/20 by the year 2020'.
The hospital, which is run by the Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Medical Trust, was set up in 1985 to eradicate preventable and curable blindness and provide free eye care, including surgery, to the rural masses in and around Coimbatore. The success of the initiative in Tamil Nadu led to the demand for prototypes of the hospital in other parts of the country.
The first replica of the Coimbatore model, that includes a full-fledged super-specialty hospital for eye care, was established at Guntur in Andhra Pradesh. Four other hospitals in Bhadravati, in Karnataka, Gandhinagar in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh are on the cards.
The idea of the hospital took shape when R V Ramani and Radha Ramani -- a young doctor couple -- came into contact with the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam, a religious institution that planned to open up a small dispensary on the premises of the Kamakshi Amman Temple at R S Puram in Coimbatore in 1977.
The couple, along with five other doctors, began treating patients in and around Coimbatore, until, in 1982, the Kanchi Kamakoti Medical Trust was set up. The Trust extended primary healthcare to people for around three years, after which it decided to specialise in eye care.
"We realised that communicating the importance of eye donation to the masses was vital. Thus was born the Sankara Eye Centre," says Dr Ramani, managing trustee of the hospital, who coined the slogan, 'Miracles cannot cure the blind, you can'. Although there were only a few eye donors initially, the centre's efforts to educate people on the importance of eye donations paid off. Today, the hospital receives one pair of eyes every day.
Following the success of its eye banks, the Trust began focusing on quality eye care. Along with Rotary Club of Coimbatore Central, it began the Gift of Vision programme involving weekly rural outreach eye camps to identify individuals suffering from corneal blindness, cataract, glaucoma and other eye ailments. Patients were given free medical and surgical treatment. Gift of Vision serves the rural population of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Pondicherry and Karnataka.
Rotary International provided the Sankara Eye Hospital with equipment worth $145,000. Between 1990 and 1995, Gift of Vision treated 1.2 million rural people.
Apart from its outreach programme, members of the hospital go out into the community, identify patients who need surgery, provide them with identity cards and take them to the base hospital in Coimbatore for treatment. Patients are provided free transportation, boarding and lodging. The progress of every patient is carefully monitored, post-surgery.
"Post-operative follow-up is vital. Or else the purpose of the movement is lost. Improvement in quality is reflected in 90% of patients undergoing sutureless, small-incision surgery," says Dr Ramani.
The Sankara Eye Hospital, as part of preventive eye care, also focuses on school children, in its Rainbow programme started in 1988. An initial study found that around 6% of school-going children had undetected problems with their vision. The programme has since covered 2 million children. The hospital has also helped Maharashtra and Lagos, in Nigeria, conduct similar programmes to screen children for visual defects.
The success of the programme led to the break up of Rainbow into treatment for specific age-groups. While Rainbow focuses on the 6-15 age-group, Swagatham, in association with the Coimbatore Corporation, looks after newborns and children up to three years of age. Maithri attends to children in the 3-6 age-group.
Contact: Sankara Eye Centre
Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Medical Trust
Sathy Road, Sivanadapuram
Tel: 91-422-2666450 (8 lines)
InfoChange News and Features November 2004