Week 0 @ Aravind Eye Hospitals

Hello! I’m Manya Gupta. I’m currently a rising sophomore at Penn in the College of Arts and Sciences, prospectively studying economics with minors in international development and chemistry. I’m an international student from Jaipur, Rajasthan. This summer, I’ll be interning at the Aravind Eye Hospitals in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, with Celeste, Suhaas, and Aravind. I’ve had some bad internet issues recently, but I’m excited to finally share my experiences this summer through this blog!

I first heard about Aravind a few years ago from a friend whose mother interned here when she was in college. I’m really interested in global health systems building from an effective altruist lens, and I wanted to be in India this summer, so Aravind Eye Hospital checked all the boxes. In the past few months, as I’ve learned more about the organization, I’ve been nothing short of amazed by Aravind’s incredible commitment to its goals. It is a nonprofit, using their ~60% paid surgeries to lower costs for their free and subsidized patients. The average doctor at Aravind conducts 1500 surgeries per year. The error rates are lower than across the developed world, despite significantly lower costs. Aravind produces many of its own inputs through Aurolab to cut costs and also has consulting and training wings that influence eye care across the globe. Interestingly, it hires and trains huge cadre of women recruited from villages in Tamil Nadu to assist with work across the hospital. Operating at this scale while pursuing a model that serves the poor without compromising on the quality of care is really rare in global health. I can’t wait to find how they do it.

I’ve been in India since the beginning of the summer, at home in Jaipur, and now flew through Chennai to Madurai. I’ve spent a lot of time in Chennai during high school, but I am still North Indian through and through. I was a bit afraid for Tamil Nadu humidity, but I’m pleasantly surprised since it still feels cooler than home! Talking to people outside the CASI bubble has been a bit challenging — but I’ve been grateful to find that vigorous hand gestures, nodding, and pointing to myself saying “No Tamil!” has gotten me where I need to go. I’ve rarely travelled in India independently, and I’m excited to make my way across the South with my co-interns, armed with cheap and top-tier filter coffee. It’s also been really interesting to navigate differences in gender politics in the North and South. I’m currently reading an excellent book called Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh by Shranaya Bhattacharya, which explores the economic and personal trajectories of a group of Indian women across class and caste lines through the lens of their fandom. It’s making me more observant of how my experiences of gender differ depending on the part of the country I am in. I have, over the years, developed a somewhat static set of intuitions about India, and I’m looking forward to being challenged by the changing places and people I will be surrounded with.

A past CASI intern highly encouraged me to do the program and described his time at Aravind as completely changing his career trajectory. I have no doubt that it will be the same for me. I want to remember my goals of learning about efficient and accessible global health, pushing myself intellectually and socially, and, hopefully, being of use to an organization I admire. I’m looking forward to writing more over the next 2 months.

Signing off,

Manya

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About Manya