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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2526

West Virginia Dr. V.K. Raju to be honored in AP

By Prakash M Swamy

When Srinu Maddula, an 18-month old baby from West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh with defective eyesight was brought to a Rotary Club eye camp in Vijayawada in 1980s, the ophthalmologists diagnosed a rare disease that had affected the kid’s cornea. The doctors suggested corneal transplant as the only solution to prevent complete blindness.

When the attending ophthalmologists conveyed this to the organizer of the health camp that was held in Vijayawada - Dr VK Raju now Clinical Professor, Department of Ophthalmology at West Virginia University and Founder-President of The Eye Foundation of America in Morgantown, West Virginia, he lost no time in shifting the baby and his parents to the US.

Dr Raju arranged for the corneal transplant be performed on Srinu at General Hospital in Morgantown West Virginia – spending his money on the investigation, hospitalization and surgery, air tickets from India and the family’s board and lodge.

Srinu Maddula stayed back in the US with his family and completed his Pharm. D (Doctor of Pharmacy) from Rutgers University in New Jersey. Now he is the great supporter and a roving ambassador of The Eye Foundation of America helping thousands of children across the globe.

Srinu Maddula is among the whopping two million out patients from around the globe who were treated for various major eye ailments thanks to the grand vision and foresight of a noble Indian-American physician Dr VK Raju who has dedicated his life to cure child blindness not only in Andhra Pradesh but across the globe. He has performed eye surgeries free of cost on 300,000 patients in four decades that includes 25,000 children. He visualized a world without childhood blindness.

Dr Raju is being honored for his lifelong dedicated service in eradicating blindness among children at a one day conference “Prevention of Blindness in Childhood and beyond,” to be held at Hotel Fortune Murali Park in Vijayawada on October 27.

What started a make-shift rural eye camp by Dr VK Raju in Vijayawada in 1977 with the help of Rotary Clubs has now grown into a mass global non-profit healthcare movement with free eye surgeries being performed in 25 countries with over 250 camps in Vijayawada alone.

A distinguished American Professor of Ophthalmology and a pioneer in restoring lost vision of hapless children and preventing new born and infants from blindness, Dr Raju is totally dedicated to the noble cause and all his vacations in India -thrice or four times a year- are spent only in the dingy rooms of the eye camps in rural areas.

When he decided to conduct the eye camp in Vijayawada in 1977 he was in the US and came to India on a vacation. Noticing high incidence of preventable blindness in children, he enlisted the support of Rotary Clubs in realizing his dream.

There were no equipment then to perform cataract surgeries on children and he decided to import an instrument from the US called Ocutome in 1979 at the cost of $25, 000 by borrowing money from the banks. The instrument had just come into the US market and no such tiny cutting and aspiration equipment exist before for safe surgery on children. That proved to be a turning point in the lives of thousands of children affected by plethora of eye diseases such as cataract and corneal damage.

What started as a makeshift rural eye camp 40 years ago has now spread as a global mission to restore eye sight in 25 countries spanning across three continents – thanks to the vision of one person - Dr. Raju in making a world without blindness. Several donors joined hands with him and that led to the formation of The Eye Foundation of America, a US registered non-profit of which he is the President to fund projects across the globe. He has also conducted free eye camps in Dharavi, world’s largest slum in Mumbai.

A team player who never takes individual credit to the achievements, Dr Raju has roped in professionals, policy makers, motivators, para-medical staff, NGOs and non-medical volunteers as stake holders in realizing his dream. “Ophthalmologists alone can’t eradicate blindness,” he avers.

Towards this end, he launched two eye institutes in Kakinada and Goutami Eye Institute in Rajamundry in 1993 and 2005 respectively to bring in world class teaching, training and outreach programs.

What distinguishes Dr Raju from other practitioners is his vision and ability to foresee problems in healthcare. He realized with the help of a study that infusing overdose of oxygen on premature babies at childbirth causes blindness of the new born. Dr Raju launched a campaign to check the eyes of all the new born in neo-natal care wards in both government and private hospitals to prevent blindness.

A specially trained team of trained technicians trooped out to various hospitals under the instructions of Dr Raju and checked the eyes of over 1500 infants and found at least 100 are affected. Along with the local doctors, treatments were provided and the infants are saved from total blindness.

He specializes and priorities in preventing blindness in infants and children as he feels that their contribution to the society may last 70 to 75 years as compared to treating an adult who is 40 or 50 years old. But they do not deny treatment to any adult if his vision is affected. By eradicating blindness among infants and children, we are building a strong and healthy India and the world and the future generation is protected,” he says.

The Eye Foundation of America plans to touch the lives of 100,000 people in India as a part of its ongoing efforts to eliminate avoidable blindness. The campaign is focused on those in rural India who suffers from diabetes and is at risk for, or may already be suffering from, diabetic retinopathy — a condition that often leads to blindness if left untreated.

He says more than 61 million people in India have diabetes, 55% of Indians with diabetes live in rural areas, 96,000 children in India have Type 1 diabetes, Up to 20 percent of India’s rural populations are affected by diabetes and 52% of people with diabetes don’t realize they have it and India has a health care worker shortage of 515,000 professionals.

Dr. Raju was the recipient of the President’s Award for Lifetime Achievement during the 2017 West Virginia State Medical Association Healthcare Summit this past August. The inaugural award recognized him for his lifelong commitment to the advancement of science, medicine and public health. The citation said he continues to have a meaningful impact on the lives of scores of individuals across the globe by helping eliminate blindness and positively impacting the rural and remote areas of developing countries where there is no medical care or where the cost of medical is prohibitive.

He was the recipient with American Medical Association Foundation’s Dr Nathen Davis International Award in Medicine. He was also inducted into University of Toledo’s Global Medical Mission Hall of Fame. He also received Mahatma Gandhi Pravasi Samman Award.

He received his medical degree at Andhra University in India, and then traveled to the University of London to complete an ophthalmology residency and fellowship. In the U.S., Dr. Raju completed an anterior segment surgery fellowship at Louisiana State University. Dr. Raju’s extensive accomplishments continue as he is a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons and of the American College of Surgeons.

The eye doctor also currently serves as a clinical professor of ophthalmology at West Virginia University where he has been teaching since 1976. Before that, Dr. Raju spent two years teaching at the Royal Eye Hospital of London. He is also the director of the International Ocular Surface Society, the director of the Ocular Surface Research and Education Foundation, and the medical director and past president of the Eye Foundation of America.

- Asian Tribune –

Dr. V.K.Raju
Dr. V.K. Raju Testing a Patient
West Virginia Dr. V.K. Raju to be honored in AP
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