Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Day One – Aravind Hospitals, Madurai
The study tour begins with a trip to LAICO, the Lions Aravind Institute of Community Ophthalmology. Our group is met by LAICO staff with glorious garlands of aromatic jasmine and cedar. Madurai is world famous for its jasmine, especially for the single garlands, malligi, usually worn daily by local women. The scent is intoxicating, and the welcoming ceremony, moving.
The staff, led by Aravind Chair Dr. P. Namperumalsamy (Dr. Nam), began an overview of Aravind Eye Care System. The detailed presentation outlined not only the surgical/medical excellence the organization is known for, but also highlighted the other facets of their success – commitment to serving everyone in pursuit of eliminating needless blindness, and an incredible knack for business management. This illustrated the scope and efficiency of Aravind, and gave a preview of what the study tour will witness in the coming days.
After lunch, study tour participants heard from the division of AECS, the LAICO education structure. Starting with a tour of the building, they addressed how their teaching facility not only served their internal needs for training medical and support staff, but also the greater ophthalmologic community. Students and practitioners from around the world descend on Aravind daily to take advantage of educational programs. The subjects range from eye care, to professional and managerial development, to global partnership opportunities.
During the tour, they introduced our STPs to the concept of Aravind “sisters.” These young women are recruited right out of high school from the rural areas surrounding Madurai. They spend one year of residence, training to work with patients, and are usually chosen to serve as patient counselors. After two years, they are ready to assist patients in navigating the world of eye medicine by explaining the surgical options available to them, accompany them during the surgery, explain in detail the correct post-operative care procedures, and encourage them to return for follow-up in four to six weeks. As most of the patients come from the same rural areas the girls hail from, working with them helps to dispel much of the trepidation that may come with visiting the hospital. This increases the likelihood of a successful procedure, and the girls have an opportunity not usually available to them in their villages. My hope is that the financial and educational independence they gain will ensure a better fate for their own girls.
After a day full of new information and new acquaintances, dinner featured some friends of Aravind – NGO partners and local industrialists, all vitally interested in the success of Aravind. Tomorrow will be an early morning, with the study tour joining the doctors in the operating theatre.
Eravu Vanakkangal (“Good Night” in Tamil)