Setting sights higher

"IF IN your action you allow the divine force to flow through you, you will accomplish things far greater than you might have imagined," says G.Venkataswamy, founder chairman of the Aravind Eye Hospitals.

Though the statement might look a bit too spiritual, no one can deny the truth and value behind these words.

In his pursuit to prevent avoidable blindness from the society, he found that establishing eye hospitals alone would not suffice.

Hence, the Lions Aravind Institute of Community Ophthalmology (LAICO) was found to achieve his mission through teaching, training, consultancy, advocacy and research in eye care delivery.

"It was in the mid-80s that Aravind felt the need for an institute for internal training to maintain levels of commitment and propagate the spirit of work. But, unfortunately, the whole project was put in cold storage for a few years. Recognising that human resource development and training would be critical for the success of "Sight First", a global programme launched in the early 90s by the Lions International, the directors of the programme were keen to support the establishment of an Institute of Community Ophthalmology at Aravind."

" The support from Sight First allowed the establishment of a formal institution LAICO," says R.D. Thulasiraj, Executive Director, LAICO.

The main activities of the institute are capacity building of other eye hospitals, training programmes: clinical and non-clinical, research activities and projects, publications, support to Aravind Eye Hospitals Auro Lab, advocacy and contribution to eye care programmes at national and international level through the Government and International NGOs.

But, a major part of the LAICO's work now centres on capacity building for other eye hospitals.

It was the flood of applications from the Lions Clubs to the Sight First programme to build new eye hospitals or significantly expand existing ones, which prompted LAICO to engage in this activity.

Today, the institute receives requests even from places such as Tanzania, Bolivia, Bangladesh and Nepal.

They are vouching to adapt the Aravind model to suit their particular circumstances.

Now, the LAICO's consultancy for capacity building is spread around 150 eye hospitals.

Consultancy is carried out through needs assessment visit, capacity building workshop, follow-up visit and monitoring.

"The utilisation of existing infrastructure is estimated as 25 per cent and the target set is 90 per cent," says Mr.Thulasiraj,

"This requires a complete reengineering and a paradigm shift in the way the current facilities work as well as the new projects that will come into existence. It is conservatively estimated that about 1000 institutions are providing eye care in South East Asia," he says.

"Many of these hospitals have potential to enhance their service significantly to the community in terms of volume and quality, by adopting new methods and technologies in management and in clinical services, thereby meeting the needs of the community more effectively," says Mr.Thulasiraj,

Apart from various capacity building exercises, the LAICO also runs a series of management training and skills development courses to address the need for professionally trained human resource in eye care.

It also coordinates several clinical courses that are offered to increase the ophthalmic human resource in the country and to provide continuing skills development.

The LAICO has planned to offer some of the management courses through distance learning using internet infrastructure, web based learning.

"To start with, paramedical course would be offered through the distance learning programme. Use of computer in all hospitals is a must," says Mr.Thulasiraj.

The LAICO has also planned to develop resource centre to avail statistics, reference materials and other tools relevant to different aspects of eye care.

Their ongoing projects include, Aravind Tele-ophthalmology network in collaboration with Orbis International and Acumen Fund, USA, five year pilot diabetic retinopathy project, health education project, Kariapatti pediatric eye evaluation project, International Eye Foundation project, developing Orbis - Aravind Paediatric Ophthalmology and paramedical traning centre.

At the international level, the LAICO has worked with eye hospitals in Cambodia (Siem Reap), Malawi (Lilongwe) and Egypt (Cairo) to train staff in the clinical area, service marketing and administrative systems.

In addition LAICO coordinated the establishment of two IOL microsurgery training centres in Nigeria (Kaduna) and Bangladesh (Dhaka) to spread this training in a cost effective manner in those regions.

"In order to meet with the high demand from West Africa for training in instruments maintenance, a special course of training of trainers was conducted at Madurai," he says.

"This December our team would be leaving for Tanzania for Eye Programme Management and again in February for community development," says Mr. Thulasiraj.

"Thanks to the unstinted support from N.A.K. Gopalakrishna Raja, Grant Administrator, Lions International, M.Nagarajan, Project Chairman (Lions International), Dr.S. Chandrashekar Shetty, Technical Director, Lions SightFirst programme, LAICO has become another success story of Aravind," he says.

"The LAICO's work makes it possible for Aravind to transfer the best of its expertise and experience to an ever-increasing number of eye-care institutes across India and the rest of the developing world," says beaming Mr.Thulasiraj.