A vision beyond Oz
A group of Sydney doctors take their philanthropy to rural India. RAJNI ANAND LUTHRA reports
They describe their annual trip to India as “one of the most rewarding experiences” of the year.
For one group of Sydney-based doctors, the India trip is not exactly a holiday, though. They travel to rural regions to perform cataract surgeries for some very poor people.
The organisation Vision Beyond Oz, set up by Dr Shailaja Chaturvedi and associates in 2002, has been doing sterling work in Uttaranchal, UP and MP states in India.
“There are over 2 million people blinded by cataracts in India and each year an additional 400,000 become blind due to cataract,” Dr Chaturvedi told Indian Link. “The cataract operation is one of the most cost-effective forms of health interventions. Nearly half a million cataract operations are performed in India annually, but this barely covers the urban population”.
Vision Beyond Oz is helping address this issue in the rural areas with a sustainable model for the highest quality eye-care with modern techniques.
The activities have so far been based at an ashram in Rishikesh run by spiritual leader Swami Chidanand Saraswati, president of the charitable Parmarth Niketan. A defunct operating theatre was provided within a small Ayurvedic hospital in the area in 2002. Over the past eight years, it has been converted into a modern eye surgery unit fitted with the latest in operating equipment.
Nearly 1000 patients have been treated annually at eye camps held here. All are from surrounding rural areas, and 90% of them are poor.
“We advertise the camp a month before it actually takes place,” one of the doctors revealed, “and word gets around. Now, the case is that people wait for us each year – Jab Australia ki team aayegi, unse karvaayenge, they say”.
The project is self-funded. The team includes four ophthalmologists, two anaesthetics and a general doctor, all from Westmead Hospital, all of who pay for their own expenses. They employ locally trained paramedics for assistance, to whom the experience is an added attraction.
Outcome studies for the early work at Rishikesh revealed such high success rates that the model has now been taken to Fiji as well. The Uniting Church now funds a Parmarth project at Fiji, although the ophthalmologists, anaesthetists, orthoptists and specially trained nurses that are involved in this program each donate a week of their time graciously to the project.
“The experience and expertise of the volunteers in both projects are credited for their 100% success rate”, a doctor with the Vision Beyond Oz revealed. (The team requested anonymity for purposes of this article).
Buoyed by the success of their voluntary work in cataract surgery, Vision Beyond Oz decided to expand their services to other forms of interventions as well. Mental health has been another area in which work has begun. Two clinics have been held so far in which Fijian post graduate students in psychiatry have come out to Australia briefly to gain experience.
The team is currently in negotiations to associate themselves with GAPIO (Global Association for Physicians of Indian Origin) which was formed early this year and has already set programs in action including voluntary work, support in collaborative research and medical education. Such a tie-up will not only see their resources increase, it will also help in dealing with bureaucratic obstacles that are the bane of operations such as these. The Sydney-based doctors revealed that there has not been much help forthcoming from Indian government agencies in helping transport equipment over.
“We’ve now decided to handle the transport issue ourselves,” one doctor revealed, “but we would still like venues where we can conduct our operations, and maybe some basic security at the spot.
In this regard, private foundations such as Parmarth have helped where government departments have failed.
It is hoped that the lobbying power that GAPIO will bring, will help.
Meanwhile, the work continues for Vision Beyond Oz. The next project is scheduled to be held at Barsana near Bridavan and will commence shortly.