As I briefly touched on in my last post, Aravind’s eye camps are held with the intention of reaching patients in need who would not otherwise seek out ophthalmology treatment themselves. Camps are sponsored by local organizations like Lions Club International, Rotary International, religious groups, banks, hospitals, community NGOs, and other social welfare clubs. They are responsible for providing a place for it to be held, food and water for the 6-hour operation, and, most importantly, publicity beforehand. While this costs the sponsors some money, the good report they gain within their villages far outweighs the financial burden. Aravind absorbs the price of the doctors and nurses time and treatment equipment, making the entire process free to patients.The day of the camp, the system works something like this:
- Patients register.
- Nurses test visual acuity.
- Patients wait in line before seeing a doctor, who checks on pupil reactions and eye health. Three doctors came along to the camp I went to, which is standard.
- Patients needing cataract surgery go on to get their vitals measured, while all others continue to refraction. If any complications arise, sometimes patients are sent back to see the doctors again.
- Patients who got refracted and need glasses then go to retrieve their new eyewear, which is made on the spot at the eye camp locations.
- Patients with cataract are evaluated for diabetes and receive a retina check. Testing their tear ducts and intraocular pressure of those over 40 is also done on site.
- Cataract patients are bused back to Aravind that very day with the doctors. They receive their free operation the following day, stay at the hospital for another two nights in recovery, and then are bused back to the camp location they left from three days prior.
- Two months or so after the camp and subsequent procedures, Aravind doctors return to the camp location to do follow-up check-ins with those who received surgery and ensure recovery is going smoothly.
I meandered through the school building of the camp location, capturing pictures of the different stages. At one point, a woman motioned me over and pointed to her face, wanting me to take a shot of her. She beamed when I showed her the resulting photograph on the digital screen, and soon enough the entire line who had been waiting to see the doctors, using their smiles and hands, asked for me to do the same for them.
What stuck out to me the most was how grateful and cooperative the patients were. I found my economic interests getting so wrapped up in the camp process, the resources, and the efficiency of it all that I almost forgot to appreciate what the camp meant for those being treated. The people I saw were suffering from impaired vision, many of the older ones having severe cases. After coming to camp, receiving care and cataract surgery if necessary, their vision would be restored. For the children, it meant they could reach their full potential at school. For the young adults, it meant they could now work more or get a different job, contributing a higher salary to their family’s expenses. For the elderly, it meant they could remain self-sufficient even as they age.
The eye camps elicit this powerful, priceless impact which will continue to motivate me not only throughout the rest of my time at Aravind, but in public health work beyond Pondicherry as well.