Cataracts, a clouding of the optic lens in the eye, are common among the majority of the older people who live in rural villages in Tamilnadu, and the most common cause of non-congenital blindness. Villagers, who have labored most of their lives since they were children doing field work, planting, transplanting, and harvesting rice and preparing fields by plowing, repairing irrigation works etc., do so without any eye protection from the strong, hot solar rays of the long summer in Tamilnadu. The result is a high incidence of cataracts and blindness among the aged. While easily treatable with modern opthalmic procedures, the condition often goes uncorrected among the older residents of Tiruporuur Block in Tamilnadu India, where our project is located.
The costs of private cataract surgery are ordinarily far beyond the means of most landless villagers in the district where SAVE-INTL operates. However the Government of Tamilnadu has a social welfare program whereby private and charitable eye hospitals and clinics receive a fixed amount of reimbursement from the government for each cataract surgery that they perform. With this government assistance, plus private donations, eye clinics are able to offer free cataract surgery to the poor rural population of Tamilnadu.
But this is not enough to solve the problem of the prevalence of rural blindness in Tamilnadu. Suspicion of those offering free allopathic medical care is widespread due to previous bad medical outcomes experienced by themselves, relatives and friends. Additionally, illiteracy and ignorance are widespread. Many cataract sufferers do not know the cause of their declining vision, are unaware of the availability of the free eye surgery, or are afraid there are hidden costs. Some are fearful of being away from their homes and village for a night under strange circumstances, concerned they might be experimental subjects, or not certain how to go about obtaining the sight saving procedure.
This is where SAVE-INTL and its local partner, Tamilnadu Village Outreach (TVO) are able to help. With our history of sustained involvement in local village social programs for over six years and excellent reputation, local villagers have a high level of trust in projects we undertake. To reach out and inform villagers of the one day event, we are able to utilize our local level contacts that range from village headmen to the teachers we employ to run our Tuition Schools and women’s vocational programs. Additional we paid for spots on local radio, distributed flyers announcing the time, date and location of the eye camp and finally hired a small sound van to go through the local villages and announce the eye camp on the day of the program.
We investigated several eye clinics and hospitals that offered free eye care and cataract surgery to the indigent and decided upon the Sankara Eye Hospital in Pammal, Chennai, Tamilnadu. They gave us a comprehensive tour of their large facility and were very impressed by the cleanliness, organization, attitude of the staff to patients and the overnight dormitory and cafeteria provided to indigent patients. Then it was the turn of Sankara Eye Hospital to inspect our clinic in Amuur and satisfy themselves that we could satisfy their space and amenity requirements. They also provided us with a list of items and provisions that we would be required to provide including food and snacks for their staff, tables and furniture, drinking water, and local staff.
The Eye Clinic was judged by all to be a resounding success.
A total of 124 separate patients were evaluated by an opthamologist and their vision tested for glasses by an optometrist.
Some basic eye medications for dry eyes and simple infections were distributed for free.
Ten cataract patients were immediately taken for free cataract surgery in the Sankara Eye Hospital bus and all subsequently reported on their return that their vision was restored and that they were treated respectfully and satisfactorily.
Some patients were asked to come to the Sankara Hospital at a later time for a more thorough examination including dilation, glaucoma screening, etc. The charge for this is only 100 Rs or a bit more than $2.00.
Some of the villages whose residents participated were Amuur, Siridhavuur, Panjanteertee, Mundiritoppu, Vellankadu and Kazhanipakkam among others. The cataract patients who have had only one eye repaired at a time will arrange for subsequent treatment of their remaining cataract.
If you would like to help, we need donations of old usable eyeglasses and frames and especially eyeglasses that can correct presbyopia or near sightedness, which are sold in the USA without prescription. Of course money would also help! We hope to sponsor future eye camps in other village networks where we have schools and programs.
About the Clinic in Amuur: In 2007 The Arbiter Samariter Bund of Kiel, Germany donated money for the construction of the clinic through SAVE-INTL and we SAVE manages the clinic with our partner, TVO. There is a paid staff nurse in attendance 4-5 hours a day, 6 days a week and also a paid assistant janitor. The clinic has two rooms and two toilets, two beds and basic medical clinic and a supply of medications, bandages, etc. All medical waste is promptly burned and used needles are destroyed in machine designed for this purpose. Emphasis is on treating women and young children, detection and preventive care. Our nurse evaluates all patients and either provides treatment or refers them to a local Doctor or hospital, such as Chettinad Hospital, with whom we have a liason relationship. All visits are free as well as medications suggested for treatment of such common ailments as joint and muscle pain, high blood pressure, the common cold. Cuts and scrapes are evaluated, debrided and dressed and we also provide initial screening for diabetes.