West Virginia-based ophthalmologist Vadrevu K. Raju, whose lifelong mission has been to restore vision to people, especially children in India and abroad through his nonprofit Eye Foundation of America, believes in what he calls a stitch in time saves nine.
In his latest act of philanthropy, the 77-year-old physician credited with performing more than 40,000 surgeries, including about 28,000 on children along with his team both in the U.S. and India, recently gifted a specialized noncontact camera for Retinopathy of Prematurity Screening to the Rotary Club of Kolkata.
The equipment, which is said to cost $100,000 in the U.S., will help newborns in the city and suburbs to be effectively screened for RoP and given treatment in time. With India having the highest number of preterm births in the world, the country faces what experts call an epidemic of RoP. Studies published in Indian Journal of Ophthalmology indicate there has been a 12-fold increase in babies requiring treatment for RoP between 2000 and 2017.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), which pegged the number at 35.19 lakh premature births in India a year, premature babies are highly prone to RoP, which can later result not just in blindness, but even the detachment of retina. RoP can be caused if the incubator oxygen level is too high.
Raju, who is a Rotarian and a native of Andhra Pradesh, believes that if any abnormality is suspected in the newborn’s eye after an image has been taken with the help of the high-tech camera and immediate medical intervention is done, a baby can be saved from remaining blind for the rest of his life. Raju said the camera takes images of the small blood vessels behind the eye invisible to normal imaging equipment. “There is no question that it has a superb technology.”
Researchers in India have also found in 2017 that more than 8,277 children in Andhra Pradesh did not undergo any treatment for RoP after evaluation, because, among others, it was too late for the condition to be treated.
“A simple stich in time thus can save children from having to live with blindness for all his life. That is why I thought it is important to gift this camera to the Rotary Club of Kolkata, which is the oldest such club in India and is celebrating its centenary in 2020,” Raju said. “There is an enormous benefit associated with this camera and it is one of the most cost-effective health interventions,” Raju said, adding that unlike corporate hospitals, municipal hospitals and the ones in semi-urban areas do not have the wherewithal to have such equipment for eye screening and this will help fill the gap.
Raju explained that for taking photos, a doctor does not need to go to the patient as technicians can do the job and one of the technician from Goutami Eye Institute in Rajahmundry that he founded in 2005 will be in Kolkata to help demonstrate how to do the job. He said the images can be transmitted to Retinopathy specialists anywhere in the world.
Raju, however, acknowledged that the gift to the Kolkata Rotary club was not because West Bengal particularly has a high incidence of the disease — there are other towns and cities in India where the facility is not available — but because of requests from two of the Rotarians from Kolkata who live in West Virginia and are members of the advisory board of his Eye Foundation of America.
The issue came up during his meeting with them and other Rotarians from Kolkata during Rotary International’s meeting in Hamburg in July this year.”I must say Indira Majumdar, a pediatrician and Ranjit Majumdar, professor emeritus of psychology at West Virginia university, are instrumental for this initiative,” he said, adding that this would be a sort of collaboration between Rotary Club of Kolkata and hospitals.
Raju, who is president and founder of Eye Foundation of America as well as Goutami Eye Institute in Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh is Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology at West Virginia University and director of International Ocular Surface Society and an adjunct professor at GSL Medical School.
He will give the camera to the rotary club at a ceremony on Dec. 31 which will take the equipment to any hospital or healthcare facility that urgently needs it at its discretion and under its supervision. Raju will give a talk at the club on Jan. 1, 2020 on Retinopathy of Prematurity screening.
“India has done incredible things but there is still a big discrepancy between the rich and the poor (in terms of availing healthcare) and this is happening even in a country like the U.S.,” he said.
“Actually, I did and eye camp in India in 1978 and I started to focus on babies with such retina problems, which is caused because of giving too much oxygen without proper monitoring during neonatal care, but now we are going to focus more and more on children because if we don’t do something for children in the beginning it becomes too late to do anything afterwards and that is why this initiative,”
Raju said. “We continue to do adult eye care, but the major focus of our foundation is on children, not just in India but around the world. That is why in our foundation our motto is to have a world without childhood blindness.”