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Indian eyecare NGO gets Hilton Humanitarian prize

March 06, 2010 07:05 IST

Aravind Eye Care System, the world's largest eye care provider that has developed innovative technologies allowing it to perform 300,000 eye surgeries each year - 70 percent subsidized or free for the poor - has been selected to receive the $1.5 million Conrad N Hilton Humanitarian Prize for 2010.

The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation presents the annual award, the world's largest humanitarian prize, to an organization that is doing extraordinary work to alleviate human suffering. More than 200 nominations are received from throughout the world, and an independent international jury makes the final selection.

'Aravind is a remarkable enterprise and its scale of impact on millions of patients is phenomenal,' said Steven M Hilton, CEO and president of the Conrad N Hilton Foundation. 'In a 30-year quest to end blindness in India, Aravind has developed innovative technologies that are now a model for both the developed and developing world.'

There are 45 million blind people in the world, the majority being in the developing world, and including 12 million in India. Because of extreme sun and genetics, Indians develop cataracts in their 40s and 50s versus 60s and 70s in the United States. Without surgery they go blind, losing many of their productive years.

Realizing that it was possible to end much of the unnecessary blindness in his country, Dr Govindappa Venkataswamy, upon his retirement in 1976 from government health service, mortgaged his home to start an eye clinic - Aravind - with 11 beds in a rented house in Madurai, Tamil Nadu.

As of 2009, Aravind has handled over 29 million outpatient visits and performed over 36 lakh surgeries. It operates five Aravind hospitals in India supported by a network of clinics, manages four others, and has well established research laboratories and a manufacturing facility producing high quality, low cost ophthalmic supplies.

It is now expanding its model globally, establishing seven eye hospitals in Bangladesh with Grameen Bank and training all the staff. It has worked with over 260 eye hospitals from India and other developing countries to expand their capacity to treat eye diseases and conditions in addition to cataracts. It has participated in establishing national eye care plans for India, Rwanda and Eritrea.

'The worldwide visibility and recognition that comes with the Hilton Humanitarian Prize will allow us to bring our healthcare model to alleviate suffering in many more parts of the world,' said Dr. P Namperumalsamy, Aravind's chairman.

The 2010 prize will be presented for the first time at the Global Philanthropy Forum's 9th annual conference at a dinner on Tuesday, April 20, 2010, at the Hotel Sofitel in Redwood City, California.

Suman Guha Mozumder in New York