Sankara Nethralaya (SN), a super specialty institution for ophthalmic care, has made its presence well-felt at the hearts of thousands of Bangladeshi patients through their quality service at an affordable cost giving back people at home and abroad the lost light in their eyes.
The number of Bangladeshi patients in the "not-for-profit charitable organisation" is still in the upward trend with an annual increase of 5-7 percent, doctors say.
Executive Medical Director at Sankara Nethralaya Dr Girish Shiva Rao said around 60 percent of foreign patients are from Bangladesh who avail themselves of services from trained and dedicated professionals with ready access to state-of-the art ophthalmic infrastructure that render high quality eyecare.
"We receive 56,000 patients from Bangladesh annually. It's increasing at a rate of 5-7 percent. So, there's an upward trend," he said.
SN is the only eye hospital in the region that deals with major surgeries like glaucoma, retina, oculoplasty, squint, pediatric cataract, corneal transplant and other pediatric surgeries at a very low cost.
Senior Consultant Dr Parghopratim Dutta Majumder said some 3,500 patients, out of the 56,000, they receive from Bangladesh undergo surgery annually at Sankara Nethralaya, also known as 'The Temple of the Eye.'
Dr Rao said they have 153 doctors in all eight centres of India and 109 of them ophthalmologists.
Education and Training
Bangladeshi doctors get benefited from the Sankara Nethralaya through training and exchange of opinions but there is no plan to open any centre outside India.
"We're open to collaboration with hospitals from where doctors and staff members can come here for training so that they can go back and do quality work there (Bangladesh)," said Dr Rao.
He said Sankara Nethralaya, as of now, has no intention or proposals for opening up centre abroad noting that India is still underserved.
Dr Parghopratim said it will be wrong if it is termed as any kind of direct collaboration. "We're not interested to do any collaboration with anybody. But when we're asked for help like training and research, we extend our support."
Both Dr Rao and Dr Parghopratim laid emphasis on awareness among people about eyecare.
"We see an increased level of public awareness. But much more needed, especially in rural areas," said Dr Parghopratim who maintains close relations with Bangladeshi doctors.
He said eye situation gets complicated if the patients do not remain careful and do not report to doctors timely.
One in every 12 ophthalmologists has undergone training at the SN.
Bangladeshi Doctors Praised
Dr Parghopratim said Bangladeshi doctors are very good and quality has been improved substantially.
However, he said, some modern facilities are not available in Bangladesh and many parts of India. "So, students and doctors come to us for training or opinion on particular issues apart from patients."
Dr Parghopratim said they always compare with western world in terms of facilities.
He said it needs to be noted that doctors in western world deal with 5-10 patients on a daily basis while the number in Bangladesh and India is around 50-60 persons.
This Correspondent met a Bangladeshi patient who came here from Chottogram with injuries in his both eyes.
"We got frustrated when doctors told us in Bangladesh that the chance to get back his eyesight is 20 percent," an attendant of the11-year-old boy - Md Imteaz - told UNB.
He said Imteaz suffered injuries in his eyes while playing football but did not share it with his family members instantly.
Imteaz only shared it a year later when he felt having poor vision.
"As decided, we came here and consulted doctors. We got completely different version here and that's much assuring," said the attendant mentioning that Imteaz underwent surgery in one of his eyes successfully on Saturday.
Imteaz will go for the second eye surgery soon and doctors are quite confident of his complete recovery.
"It makes us frustrated when we see doctors give less time to patients in Bangladesh. But doctors are giving adequate time with much care," said the Bangladeshi young man.
Dr Rao said they provide free treatment to those patients who are genuinely poor. "If we feel that a patient is genuinely poor, we do offer free treatment."
Though, he said, they find required documents to verify Indian poor patients for free treatment, they usually do not get supportive documents from Bangladesh government which can be considered as proof.
Mobile Eye Surgery Unit
The SN has introduced mobile eye surgery vehicles to reach to the poor people in villages and other remote areas who are unable to come to the hospital.
The Mobile Eye Surgery Unit (MESU), the first of its kind in Asia, designed in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Chennai.
This is a self-contained facility for carrying out cataract surgeries and so far over 300 surgeries have been conducted successfully in 27 different locations in Tamilnadu.
Dr Rao said this is a very unique concept which is very comfortable for patients.
By 2020, there will be 43 million blind people in India- 15 million totally blind and 28 million visually impaired, according to World Health Organisation. This accounts for 25 percent of the global blind population.
SN, a tertiary ophthalmic hospital, receives patients from all over India apart from patients from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman.
On average, 1200 patients walk through SN doors and 200 surgeries are performed every day. Over 100,000 patients are given ophthalmic treatment in out-patient clinics.