Google on Monday honoured eminent ophthalmologist and founder of Aravind Eye Hospitals Govindappa Venkataswamy with a doodle in his birth centenary year.
The doodle, visible in India, Australia, and New Zealand, features a mirrored landscape blurred on one side and clear on the other with a caricature of Dr. Venkataswamy in the middle. Dr. Venkataswamy or Dr. V is known for introducing low-cost cataract surgery and the eminent ‘Aravind Model’ of free cataract treatment to the poor.
His vision and contributions
According to a World Health Organisation report released in 2012, cataract continues to be the main cause of blindness in the world (51%). According to a paper published by Indian Journal of Opthalmology, 8.25 million people could lose eyesight in India in 2020 due to cataract.
Dr. Venkataswamy started Aravind Eye Care in a rented house with 11 beds in Madurai in 1976 with an aim to eradicate what he called needless blindness. Today, Aravind has over 57 centres comprising five tertiary care centres, five secondary care centres, six outpatient centres and 41 vision centres across India.
Born on October 1, 1918, in Vadamalapuram village in what is today Virudunagar district of Tamil Nadu, Dr. Venkataswamy decided to study obstetrics reportedly after seeing three of his cousins die due to pregnancy-related complications. He graduated from Stanley Medical College in Chennai and joined the Indian Army as a physician in 1945. But Dr. Venkataswamy had to retire in the early thirties after he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis that permanently twisted his fingers out of shape. This also meant he could not continue as an obstetrician.
Dr. Venkataswamy studied Ophthalmology and subsequently became the head of the Ophthalmology department at the Government Madurai Medical College. For the next two decades, Dr. Venkataswamy led Tamil Nadu government’s initiative of mobile eye camps in rural areas. At one stage, Dr. Venkataswamy would perform 100 surgeries in a day. “His team of paramedicals do most of the prep work required for each surgery, freeing doctors to do what they do best,” said Google’s blog post on Monday’s doodle.
A journey in search of light within
Dr. Venkataswamy designed the way to address the problem of blindness in a holistic way. “He set up eye camps in rural communities, a rehab center for blind people, a training programme for ophthalmic assistants, and personally performing over 100,000 successful eye surgeries,” said Google’s blog post.
After retiring in 1976, Dr. Venkataswamy founded Aravind Eye Care with 11 beds. The vision was to devote six beds to those patients who could not pay anything and to cover those costs with the other five beds, serving patients paying only as much as they could afford. This model is a case study for numerous medical institutions and governments across the globe and has featured in classed of Harvard Business School. Today, Aravind has nearly 4,000 beds and 70% of patients receive free or subsidised treatment. To put this in perspective, every year Aravind performs 60% as many eye surgeries as the National Health Service in the United Kingdom, doing so at one-thousandth of the cost.
Dr. Venkataswamy was accorded the Padma Shri in 1973 and BC Roy Award in 2001 for his low-cost lenses that costs as little as $2 and is being exported to over 120 countries.
Dr. Venkataswamy passed away on July 7, 2006, and his family continues to run Aravind with the same vision of the patriarch.