July 2014

 

IN OTHER NEWS

 

Physician dedicated to eliminating preventable blindness


by Lauren Lipuma EyeWorld Staff Writer

 
   

Dr. Raju sees patients at one of the first eye camps in India, around 1982. In that year, he established the Eye Foundation of America.

Dr. Raju treats a young patient at an eye camp in India. In 2005, he expanded the program to include diabetic screening.

Dr. Raju expanded the work of the foundation to Iraq in 2008.

Pre- and postoperative patients at Dr. Raju's eye clinic in Nigeria

Dr. Raju treats an elderly patient at his practice in Morgantown, W.Va. Source (all): V.K. Raju, MD, FRCS, FACS

Ophthalmologist volunteers time to provide education and eyecare in multiple countries

V.K. Raju, MD, FRCS, FACS, is just one example of how an ordinary person can do extraordinary things. For the last four decades, Dr. Raju has committed himself to combating avoidable blindness at home and abroad. He has helped restore sight to hundreds of thousands of patients worldwide and inspired those around him to commit to a lifetime of learning and volunteer work. On the eve of receiving the Dr. Nathan Davis International Award in Medicine (2013) from the American Medical Association Foundation, Dr. Raju expanded the program of voluntary services to reach 100,000 diabetics in India and in West Virginia. All of this work was done through the Eye Foundation of America, which he founded more than 30 years ago.

Doing more with less

"The World Bank once said, 'The most cost-effective health intervention in the world is combating childhood blindness,'" said Dr. Raju, Morgantown, W.Va. Taking those words to heart, he volunteers his time to provide eyecare to those with blinding illnesses in his native India and 21 other countries around the world. By diagnosing and treating patients in early stages of disease, Dr. Raju is able to prevent blindness in the majority of cases. Such care preserves patients' quality of life and avoids the need for more costly treatments later in their lives. Dr. Raju's humanitarian work began in 1977, shortly after he accepted a faculty position at West Virginia University. "I went on a vacation to India, and a farmer came to show his eyes to me, and I did not have any instruments [to treat him]," he said. The lack of medical care available around his hometown of Rajahmundry prompted Dr. Raju to return to India the next year and provide free and subsidized eyecare services to local residents, especially in rural areas. Two years later, Dr. Raju began making annual "eye relief" trips to India, recruiting other doctors and eyecare professionals to come with him. Through these "eye camps," Dr. Raju and his team were able to provide much-needed care to large numbers of patients without the need for them to travel to a hospitalovercoming a major obstacle in the delivery of healthcare in India. Today, all the surgical procedures are performed at Goutami Eye Institute. Only screenings, refractions, etc., continue to be performed in eye camps. This is an economical way to deliver healthcare to many. The health fairs in the United States are extensions of the eye camps in India.

The eye camps were so successful that in 1982, Dr. Raju established the Eye Foundation of America, a non-profit organization, to extend the scope of his work and maximize its capabilities. Another success, the foundation has provided critical care to more than 1.7 million people. Its staff has performed some 300,000 sight-restoring operations to date.

The Eye Foundation of America is working with Johns Hopkins University on vitamin A deficiency in children in 14 countries. A simple $0.05 tablet taken twice a year by children below the age of 5 could give thousands a chance at 75 years of productive life. In addition to dedicating a large amount of time and effort to help those in need, Dr. Raju has donated much of his own personal wealth to fund the foundation's projectsall in all, more than a million dollars. "I give all my LASIK money to the foundation," he explained. "Each time I do a LASIK here, 5060 children will get glasses in some other part of the worldor, two children will get surgery for congenital cataracts and have 75 years of life to live."

Change through education

When it comes to solving real-world problems, Dr. Raju quoted his late mentor, Rollin Arthur Burn, MD. "'There are three solutions for every problem,'" he said. "'The first is education, the second is education, and the third is education.'" Dr. Raju emphasized the need to educate patients, physicians, and politicians alike to ensure efficient healthcare delivery. Patient education is one of the biggest challenges he faces as an ophthalmologist, both in the U.S. and the developing world. As a physician, he has worked tirelessly to give patients knowledge that is critical to how they care for their eyes. When it comes to eyecare, "Patients are not aware what is a fact and what is a myth," he said. "Some patients come and tell me, 'Dr. Raju, I don't do too much reading, so that I can rest my eyes, so that I won't have any problems when I get old.'" Yet, that same patient would have a foreign body in the eye and not wear protective glasses at worka clear sign that the patient cannot distinguish between eye fact and myth. To address the issue, Dr. Raju often gives patients written materials detailing common eye facts and myths from the American Academy of Ophthalmology. He has even shared his knowledge with the public on a local radio show in Morgantown. Dr. Raju also stressed the need for healthcare systems in the U.S. and abroad to focus on prevention and primary care rather than tertiary care. "There is no country on Earth that spends as much on tertiary care," he said of the U.S. In India, the situation is similar. This spells bad news for a growing population with diabetes and resulting diabetic retinopathy. "There are pockets of excellence there in India, but we're talking about 1.3 billion people," Dr. Raju said. "In India, in China, we're all caught up with tertiary care. Tertiary care is wonderful; it makes sensational news, and makes money too. But primary care and secondary care are the most important for diabetes." The solution, he thinks, is to better educate politicians who make critical healthcare decisions.

Dr. Raju feels that humanitarian work allows him to continuously learn and grow as a physician and a person. "My mentor used to say, 'If you keep learning, there is no frustration and no distraction,'" he said. He encouraged other physicians to travel abroad as well. "Travel outside of the United States is the most wonderful and rewarding experience," he said. "I'll say this to any doctorif you go on a mission trip, you help yourself more than you help others."

Contact information

Raju: vkr@vkraju.com

Physician dedicated to eliminating preventable blindness Physician dedicated to eliminating preventable blindness
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