With a population of over 1.2 billion citizens, the largest concentration of people living below the World Bank’s international poverty line of $1.25/day and only one ophthalmologist per 100,000 citizens, eye care in India is often out of reach for those who need it most.
In early 2011, Lena Chheda, MD (a fourth-year resident) and Thomas Mauger MD (Department Chair) traveled to Kutch, a desert region in the northwest part of the country. Earthquakes in 2001 had devastated the already underdeveloped area leaving very little infrastructure.
Dr. Chheda had always wanted to participate in international missions, but felt especially drawn to the region of India where her grandparents grew up.
“All my family moved to the city, so going back there always reminds me of my grandparents because I never met them. It’s just really nice to be able to give back to people who support you.”
A family friend of Dr. Chheda’s, had started a clinic which hosts a medical specialty every month and treats as many people as they can. They go out to the villages all over the state to hold large screening events. People line up for hours and are divided into the different ophthalmic categories (cataracts, surgical patients, patients who need glasses, etc.). Surgical patients are then brought to the clinic and are given free food and housing for the duration of their surgery and post-operative care.
During the week of their visit, Dr. Mauger and Dr. Chheda saw patients in the morning and performed surgeries in the afternoon. They also saw a lot of Vitamin A deficiencies, old corneal scars, traumatic injuries, and corneal burns.
“When we were there, we did a fair amount of cataracts on a wide variety of ages; including a 3-month-old baby with bilateral congenital cataracts. His mother had come from 3 hours away. Ministers, priests, and even local area doctors all came to be operated on by Dr. Mauger.”
Considering the rural area, the facilities were fairly modern, however, many surgical items still needed to be donated. Antibiotics, intraocular lenses, eye drops, and medical supplies were provided by Alcon.
“When I was growing up I heard about this amazing clinic that helps so many people. It’s why I got into ophthalmology. When you go to other countries, it’s a completely different attitude. They are so grateful for their opportunities and the physicians that help them. There is so much appreciation; it makes you enjoy what you do so much more. I can’t wait for my next opportunity to go back.”
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