Founder and Chair of L.V. Prasad Eye Institute G.N. Rao is universally known for his contribution to the introduction of quality and affordable eye care in India. Apart from his work in ophthalmology, Dr. Rao is well-known for his innovative ideas on healthcare in general and his efforts to make healthcare affordable.
An alumnus of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Dr. Rao received the Padma Sri in 2002.
Dr. Rao returned to India from studies and employment in the US and started the L.V. Prasad Eye Hospital in 1986, at a time when eye donation was still taboo corneal transplantation believed to be alien to Indians. An author of over 250 papers in national and international journals, Dr. Rao is also president of the International Agency for Prevention of Blindness.
He spoke to M. Sai Gopal about the country’s healthcare sector, medical education and eye care.
What can be done to improve healthcare in India?
There is a need for healthcare providers, especially policy-makers, to concentrate on generating reliable data on basic healthcare indicators. Barring a few individual studies here and there, we have not been able to take up concerted efforts for a fool-proof epidemiological study of every aspect of health. We have to track all these parameters for another decade so that India has reliable data to help our policy-makers take decisions.
What is your take on the country’s existing immunisation programmes and healthcare awareness?
It’s unfortunate that we underperform when compared to countries like Pakistan in the field of vaccination. There is a need to revise existing strategies employed for healthcare promotion programmes. The question is – how can you attract quality healthcare workers at the basic village level?
What are your suggestions?
We have to start immediate measures to strengthen our secondary and primary healthcare services. For that, we need to impart quality training to healthcare professionals. I believe 80 per cent of our ailments can be handled at the secondary and primary level. This will ease out unnecessary pressure on tertiary healthcare, especially among teaching hospitals, which should only concentrate on excellence and finding innovative solutions to complex health issues.
Is our medical education equipped to meet the burgeoning demands?
There is no doubt that medical education needs urgent fixing. Radical reforms have to be introduced. We have to re-assess our medical curriculum, identify the needs of the community and competency levels. Quality education will produce good and well-trained healthcare workers. Of course, before that, we have to train our own faculty to upgrade skills.
What is the present scenario of eye care in India?
First, the positive: among developing nations, India is doing well in eye care. Indian NGOs are very strong and they handle 50-60 per cent of eye care patients, followed by private hospitals at 20 per cent and government hospitals at 25 per cent. We also have good centres of excellence.
On the flip side, there is no uniform standardisation of eye care, access to eye care in rural areas is still a challenge, well-trained ophthalmologists and postgraduate trainees are not there.
We do not need an eye bank in each district – 25 eye banks are more than enough to take care of corneal transplantation in India. In Telangana and AP we need only five eye banks.