Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sankara Nethralaya Eye Hospital ... the Temple of the Eye!

“What strikes me most about India is not the tremendous difference between wealth and poverty which exists in our country, the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest but more than that, the gap between the sublime nobility of character on one hand and the total degradation on the other. This strikes me as the most glaring contrast about India.  When I come to an institution as this it replenishes my faith in the future of India.  It makes me feel that I am in the midst of human beings who are human and who will one day make this country proud by their dedication, by their sense of discipline and by service to their fellow men.” - Speech delivered by Late Sri Nani A Palkhivala (Eminent Jurist & Former Indian Ambassador to the USA
Our journey and adventure through India was filled with rich experiences.  The richest and most humbling experience that I had was our visit to Sankara Nethralaya Eye Hospital, which means “Temple of the Eye”.  Back in 1976 Dr. Sengamedu Srinivasa Badrinath, an ophthalmologist native to India who did his residency in the US, decided to take the road less traveled upon.  Dr. Badrinath could have lived the American dream as defined in modern American culture; instead he lived his own dream, to make a difference in the world, to help his fellow countrymen, and to dedicate his life to all of human kind through his expertise in the field of ophthalmology.
When you think of some of the most selfless people in human history names like Gandhi and Mother Theresa come to mind.  For me the image and name of Dr. S.S. Badrinath is now included.
What is impressive to me is that Sankara Nethralaya is not just a charity to help the poor, disabled, and less fortunate.  Rather it is an institution created to sustain its own existence by having a for profit pillar of the organization where the profits are used to serve those that cannot pay for eye care and surgeries and in addition to that to produce world class research and technology.
During our visit to Sankara Nethralaya we witnessed eye care being delivered in a more advanced and sophisticated way compared to the United States.  Sankara Nethralaya pushes the limits to meet the needs of the patients they serve by developing a high tech mobile surgery unit comprised of two vans where cataract surgeries could be performed in remote areas of India where there is no power, clean water, or clean air.  The barriers they were able to overcome to do this are impressive.
Articulating the challenges that Sankara Nethralaya and the entire country of India face when it comes to eye care can be summed up in a few “eye opening” statements:
Ø  There is one eye doctor per 900,000 Indians
Ø  60% of the blind in the world live in India (India accounts for 1/5 of the world’s population)
Ø  One major issue that Indians have is that they don’t have access to eye care in rural India because they cannot afford to get transportation to a major city for eye care.  The cost of transportation is $1.20 USD, equivalent to one day’s pay!
Ø  Educating people of the symptoms and need for eye care
Ø  Fundraising & Resources
As we pulled away in our tour bus from the nano bio-technology research center I thought to myself how this one man’s life work has made a positive difference in the lives of so many people.  His selflessness and dedication to a good cause is to be truly admired.  He is a real hero.  The visit to Sankara Nethralaya was an excellent experience for me to reflect on my purpose in life, how I can give more, and what I can do to make a positive difference in the world each and every day.
A living HERO ... Dr S. S. Badrinath

Nani A Palkhivala
Sankara Nethralaya Eye Hospital “Temple of the Eye”
Below: Patients rest in the free eye clinic after surgery
Below: Sankara Nethralaya Research Center

Below: Dr S. S. Badrinath speaks to the U Albany MBA group

Below: Here I am sitting on an exam table in the free eye clinic manufacturered by Janak a medical equipment manufacturer in Mumbai that the company I work for purchased back in 2009.  A perfect example of having a "personal connection" regardless if you are 31 hours from home on the other side of the world.
Below: picture of a man with a vision disablity begging on the side of the road.  every person in the 3 minutes that i saw him gave him some money.
Below: we met in the waiting room of the free clinic to have a round table discussion about Sankara Nethralaya
While the (orange) building is not related to Sankara Nethralaya it is a great image of the high end eye care clinic and ultra modern architecture that you come across in India.  The other picture is literally right next door to this building.  How about that for contrast!

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