Better vision for Africa - with help of India

By Devirupa Mitra, IANS
Sunday, June 13, 2010

NEW DELHI - Forty-three-year-old Keerti Pradhan, a health management specialist, went to Africa for the first time in 2000. Since then, he has become passionate about applying India’s success in the eye care sector to Africa.

He has been helping Africans improve their vision through low-cost Indian technology. And with Indian private companies now flocking to Africa, Pradhan hopes one of these will adopt his pet project as a community initiative and spread it to the rest of the continent.

“Among all its health programmes, India has done very well in the national programme for controlling blindness,” he said.

A key indicator, the cataract surgery rate, which is the number of cataract operations done per million population each year, has increased from 1,500 to 4,500 within 10 years in India. In contrast, sub-Saharan Africa has an average cataract surgery rate of 700.

The first visit to Malawi and Zambia on a consultancy trip to improve eye care hospitals made him see the opportunity for Indian help in the sector.

“I realised that healthcare was dominated by the western model, where the donor agencies pump in a huge amount of money…. It was like giving a person biryani when they can only eat dal and rice,” Pradhan told IANS.

The western model of eye care was unsuitable, he realised, for African conditions, which had minimal infrastructure and human resources.

The technology and method of delivering healthcare in India was much lower to the western model. “In the western model, for each operation, the entire setup, starting with the table, is changed. In the Indian model, only the clothes are changed,” explained Pradhan.

The difference in the cost of each cataract operation is therefore sharp - $15 for the Indian method, compared to $75 for the western model.

In 2007, he persuaded an Indian businessman in the Democratic Republic of Congo to fund the setting up an eye hospital in the mineral-rich southern province of Katanga at a cost of $250,000.

“Immediately, the results were seen…from day one, it started seeing 100-150 patients waiting at the OPD by 10 a.m. It is now delivering high quality eye care with 2,500 surgeries and 50,000 OPDs per year.”

Then, he followed it up with projects in Cameroon and Ethiopia to similarly increase capacity in existing units.

“The Cameroon hospital doubled its surgery to 4,000 per year and cost recovery went from 65-70 percent, up to 120 percent with our intervention and approach in six months’ time,” said Pradhan.

Next it was helping design the national eye care plan for Rwanda and opening eye care units in South Africa.

In nearly all these projects, he had to take key technical staff from India for the initial period - a doctor, an optometrist and a nurse.

Besides, he also brought 35 professionals from various African countries for training at reputed eye institutes in southern India in 2008 and 2009.

“After these five demonstration projects were successful, I wanted to go to other countries in the continent,” said Pradhan.

But the 2009 economic crisis dried up his sources of funds.

Now Pradhan is looking at big Indian corporate houses to further his plan by promoting it as an ideal corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative.

“If you put in $5, they can get a return of $50 in terms of image building. The impact is immediate,” he said.

(Devirupa Mitra can be contacted at [email protected])

Filed under: Cataract, Eye Care Program

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