Such a model is being implemented with considerable success in India, thanks to the availability of the state-of-the art technologies like the No Stitch Cataract Surgery with the most modern way of removing cataract through the use of phacoemulsification procedure, which makes it possible to extend the services with less time and manpower.
India also has extremely competent ophthalmic surgeons with enviable clinico-academic expertise. Inevitably others are attracted.
Like the Unite for Sight, a US-based NGO which is seeking to introduce the Indian eye-care model in the West African region.
The Arasan Eye Care Hospital in Erode in southern India is playing a nodal role in this effort.
In 2005 when Roatry clubs around the world celebrated their centenary year, they dedicated it to eye care. It was then decided to conduct eye camps in Ghana. The Erode hospital was chosen for the purpose. Its Managing Director Dr.V Panneerselvam led a team that performed 586 cataract surgeries in just 17 days.
Since then the association has grown. In the last three years, the Arasan team has performed performed 2847 free cataract surgeries in all.
In the rural and urban slums of Ghana, the rate of blindness is estimated at 2.2 per cent of the population. Ghana wants to tackle the situation through a five-year strategic plan targeting five main causes of avoidable blindness, viz., cataract, trachoma, onchocerciosis, childhood blindness, refractive errors and low vision. Working along with WHO, the Health Ministry has sought help from non-governmental organisations in countries advanced in healthcare. Ghana has pinned its hopes on an association with India."
The Unite For Sight's volunteer team which is also executing some eye care projects in Ghana got acquainted with Dr.Panneerselvam's and his paramedics and sent its own team to Erode both to associate itself with the efforts of the Arasan and also learn how the hospital operated.
For 8 years now the Arasan has been rendering community services in rural areas in Four Districts in India: Erode, Karur, Namekkal, and Salem.
In an exclusive interview to Medindia, Panneerselvam said, ``In India we have evolved a self-sustaining model. The income we generate through the treatment of the better-off goes to partially fund the healthcare of the poor."
There are different categories like free service, subsidized service and service at a premium. And that is eminently workable, Panneerlsevam said.
After all a millionaire does not prefer free service and the trick lies in catering to his needs . "You provide him all that he wants and the money you get from him you use to provide quality treatment to those from the lower rungs of the society,'' Panneerselvam explained.
Here in India, the government hospitals are well equipped and are almost on a par with private hospitals, Panneerselvam feels. Only the administration needs some tightening up. Some pruning of the staff strength is called for. "Otherwise ours is a commendable service and the Indian Eye care model is comparable to the best in the world," he says.
Even in some developed countries like UK, a patient has to wait for three months for a cataract operation. We in India perform 10-15 cataract surgeries a day compared to the 3 surgeries in UK.
It is also interesting to be told 20 years ago the prevalence of cataract in India was 1.49 percent. Then came a seven-year World-bank aided programme in 1994.
The prevalence rate now is only 1.1 percent for the entire country. And for the state of Tamil Nadu itself it is only .77 percent.
The programme is still continued with Central government assistance.
The cost of a cataract surgery is evaluated at Rs 2,200. The Indian Government reimburses Rs 750 per patient. The balance is recovered by private hospitals through its other activities.
Moreover, if the Southern State of Tamil Nadu is leading in Cataract Surgical Rate (CSR), Erode district in the State tops with 8,000 surgeries performed per million population in a year. Tamil Nadu's CSR rate is around 6,000. Next to Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu is the highest, Dr Panneerselvam says.
"Hospitals like Aravind, our own Arasan and Joseph Hospital in Tiruchy are playing a key role in this happy scenario," he adds.
The Arasan Eye Hospital is one among the 32 hospitals in Tamil Nadu working under the State Govenment's Blindness Control Project. The hospital has by now screened 2.25 lakh patients and conducted over 55,000 surgeries.
The Unite for Sight team is now hoping to replicate in Africa the cost-effective eye care model followed here.
Dr.Panneerselvam also said the NGO wanted his hospital's assistance in implementing the Indian model in other West African nations like Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso too.
Technology transfer with a difference!