SEATTLE, May 21 In recognition of its groundbreaking workto prevent debilitating blindness and provide affordable, world-class eye careto the poor, the Aravind Eye Care System, based in Tamil Nadu, India, has wonthe 2008 Gates Award for Global Health. The $1 million Gates Award -- theworld's largest prize for international health -- honors extraordinary effortsto improve health in developing countries.
Founded by Dr. G. Venkataswamy in 1976, Aravind has saved millions ofpeople in India from debilitating blindness. Cataracts account for more thanhalf the cases of blindness in India. In the past year, Aravind providedout-patient care to approximately 2.4 million patients and performed more than280,000 surgeries. Thanks in part to Aravind's efforts, the estimated numberof blind people in India fell from 8.9 million in 1990 to 6.7 million in 2002,a decline of 25%.
William H. Gates Sr., co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,will present the award on May 29 at the Global Health Council's 35th AnnualInternational Conference in Washington, DC.
"Being blind in a rural village in the developing world leaves a person indarkness and dependence, often unable to earn a living or assist in the dutiesof their household," said Mr. Gates. "Aravind has given sight to millions ofmen, women, and children, enabling them to participate fully in the lives oftheir families and communities."
Since 1976, Aravind has grown from a rented house with 11 beds to athriving network of hospitals and satellite clinics that provide eye exams andsurgeries, train health care professionals, conduct research, and manufactureeye care products.
Outreach teams from Aravind hospitals coordinate with local leaders andservice groups across India to organize "eye camps" that provide free exams.Since 2004, Aravind has used high-speed broadband access to link these campsdirectly to on-call doctors in central hospitals. The doctors can diagnoseand refer patients in real time, ensuring that only those who require surgerymake the journey to the hospital.
"All people have a right to sight," said Dr. Perumalsamy Namperumalsamy,chairman of Aravind. "We hope that this award will encourage others to developcreative, sustainable solutions to blindness and other global healthchallenges."
Aravind's innovative business model enables it to provide the samehigh-quality care to every patient, regardless of their ability to pay,without charitable contributions. The organization enlists local businessesto sponsor eye care hospitals, and subsidizes care for the poor through feesfrom paying patients and global sales of eye care products.
"Ensuring that the world's poorest people can access essential health careis an ongoing challenge in global health," said Dr. Nils Daulaire, presidentof the Global Health Council. "Aravind has demonstrated that there are ways todo good and commit to providing the highest quality services while utilizingthe latest technologies and scientific advances."
About the Gates Award for Global Health
The Gates Award for Global Health was established by Bill and MelindaGates in 2000 to recognize exemplary work in international health. The GlobalHealth Council coordinates the selection process for and presentation of theGates Award at its Annual International Conference.
Previous recipients of the Gates Award include Thailand's Population andCommunity Development Association for its innovative work in family planningand HIV prevention (2007); the Carter Center, for its pioneering work to fightneglected diseases (2006); the African Medical and Research Foundation, forimproving health in some of Africa's poorest communities (2005); theBangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, for community-based health programs(2004); the Brazilian National AIDS Program, for its integrated approach toHIV prevention and tre