New beginning for Eye Foundation of America

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Dr. V.K. Raju, founder of Eye Foundation of America, announced it has gone into collaboration with the Global Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (GAPIO) and the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI). Photo: courtesy Eye Foundation of America

The Eye Foundation of America founded by an Indian-American physician, is entering a new phase in its mission of ending avoidable blindness by collaborating with GAPIO (Global Association of Physicians of Indian Origin) and AAPI (American Association of Physicians of India Origin).

Eye Foundation of America founder Dr. VK Raju’s crusade for the past four decades has been to achieve his vision of a world without avoidable blindness.

In 1977, he began traveling home to India to offer his services as an ophthalmologist to those who could not afford, or access, desperately needed eye care.

These preventive services and medical and surgical interventions were delivered in the form of eye camps in the early days, and the EFA was initially founded to allow for easier transfer of state-of-the-art equipment and medicine from the United States to India.

As the Foundation matured, it became so much more.

The EFA is now a global organization responsible for treating millions of patients, performing hundreds of thousands of surgeries, and training hundreds of eye care professionals to join in the global fight against preventable blindness.

The EFA’s work spans 30 countries over several continents.

One focus of current outreach efforts is in the prevention of diabetes. Diabetes-related complications typically strike during the prime of life and include the development of cataracts at an earlier age than normal, a two-fold increased risk of glaucoma, and small blood vessel damage (i.e., diabetic retinopathy).

Goutami Eye Institute in Andhra Pradesh under construction. Photo courtesy Eye Foundation of America

Retinopathy can cause blindness; however, early detection and treatment can prevent blindness in up to 90% of cases.

The International Diabetes Foundation estimates that 20% of the diabetic world population resides in India, approximately 61.3 million diabetics.

In 2018, 34.2 million Americans had diabetes. There are 229,000 people with diabetes in West Virginia and 8.3% of adults are borderline diabetic. West Virginia is ranked the #2 state for deaths involving diabetes.

According to Dr. Raju, the prevalence of diabetes among Indians in India and West Virginians in the United States continues to rise rapidly, and in many ways, the diabetes epidemic in West Virginia is similar to that of India, as the populations share similar characteristics: they tend to be rural, poor, and underserved.

Children before the eye surgery. Photo Eye Foundation of America
Children after the eye surgery. Photo Eye Foundation of America

These individuals often lack access to affordable medical care, making prevention and management of chronic conditions difficult.

As Dr. Raju points out, prevention is more beneficial than disease management, and lifestyle changes can be preventive.

His organization’s programs, which aim at prevention through education and lifestyle modifications, include the 100,000 Lives campaign in India and the WV Kids Farmer’s Market Program in West Virginia.

A child in India undergoes vision screening Project in Aragonda, Andhra Pradesh. Photo courtesy Eye Foundation of America

The goal in India is to reach at least 100,000 rural diabetic Indians suffering with or at risk of diabetic retinopathy, where it is believed that 51% of diabetics are undiagnosed due to lack of access to medical care.

The Farmer’s Market Program in West Virginia aims to increase access to and consumption of locally grown produce, acting as a nutritional intervention.

The EFA also has a special focus on children.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that one child goes blind every minute and that 1.4 million children are blind worldwide. Many blind children reside in rural areas and live in poverty, thus restricting their access to preventative services and medical care.

The prevalence of blindness is 10 times greater in India than in the U.S. and many cases of pediatric blindness can be prevented, Dr. Raju contends.

Children visiting a farmer’s market in West Virginia. Photo courtesy Eye Foundation of America

However, 70–80% of children do not have access to an ophthalmologist.

In an effort to provide affordable and accessible eye care, the EFA has helped to build the Goutami Eye Institute, which has a wing dedicated exclusively to children, and has launched an initiative to screen newborns for retinopathy of prematurity (ROP).

Approximately 3.5 million infants are born premature in India each year. The incidence of ROP is increasing in India due to improved neonatal survival, and ROP is the leading cause of infant blindness. The Goutami Eye Institute has screened more than 8,000 babies and treated over 600.

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