From Corneal to Retinal Disorders: Our Role as a Primary Care Provider for Rural Indian Populations

By Zeena Johar, President, ICTPH

Participating in the recent National Advocacy Round Table for Retinal Diseases in Hyderabad helped us revisit our ophthalmic care strategy as a primary healthcare provider for rural Indian populations.

Organized by Retina India, a not-for-profit organization, working towards empowering people with retinal ailments (such as diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa, retinal detachment disorders etc.), bringing them and their families on a common platform with physicians, researchers, counselors, low-vision and mobility experts.

The daylong event was anchored by Dr. Rajat Agrawal, Founder & Managing Trustee of Retina India. Dr. Agrawal worked as a retina specialist at Sankara Netralaya in Chennai till 2001. He then joined a group of scientists in the US who were working on the Bionic Eye. The bionic eye consists of a chip fitted behind the retina. The system works by converting video images captured from a miniature camera in the patient’s glasses into a series of electrical pulses transmitted wirelessly to the chip, itself an array of electrodes. With a successful implant on 37 patients of advanced retinitis pigmentosa, a disease caused by damage to the retina, the patients showed improvement in daily activities. However the larger goal that Dr. Agrawal seeks is to engineer this innovation towards an affordable solution for the multiple million Indians suffering from retinal disorders.

The deliberation in Hyderbad was presided by Dr G N Rao, Chairman and Founder of L V Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad. The meeting was attended by various representatives, which included patients, patient advocates, non-profit organizations, insurance sector, and industry, along with retina specialists. Dr R V Azad, Chief of RP Center for Ophthalmic Sciences, AIIMS, New Delhi, Dr T P Das, Medical Director, LV Prasad Eye Institute, Bhubaneshwar and Dr S Natarajan, Medical Director, Adiyta Jyot Eye Institute, Mumbai, were amongst the few noted representatives.

As was expressed through the seminar wherein various sessions focused on the role of insurance industry, tertiary care providers, NGOs and then domain experts in arriving at a trans-disciplinary solution towards better management of retinal disorders, and imbibing frontier innovation towards an affordable and accessible medical solution. With the increasing reach of multiple national level insurance schemes, a systemic change accommodating retinal disorders will offer hope to many those for whom the current medical advancements are inaccessible.

With our approach of provisioning primary care for rural Indian populations, offers us a unique opportunity to initiate early diagnosis for many such conditions. For example, annual fundus examinations for our diabetic patient cohort will help us better manage the development of diabetic retinopathic complications. As for corneal diseases, wherein refraction correction, cataract detection and management are facilitated through our clinic network a clearer understanding of similar primary care diagnosis and condition management strategies can aid in better patient outcomes for our ophthalmic intervention.

As Retina India continues its journey on its path of advocacy, an important lesson that we learn as we participate, collaborate and partner with such initiatives is to widen the portfolio of services which are provisioned by our clinic network so that in a very systematic manner we can provide a healthcare solution for early indicators of a healthcare problem.

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April 2024
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