I am back after a ten-day trip to Kolkata and finally over the jet lag to be able to write at length about my Susrut site-visit.
One day after landing I visited a screening camp - the type Optometrist Avhijit Das and the low vision specialist at Susrut Eye Foundation and Research Center writes to us about. This was held at a government school in the greater Kolkata area. I met with the students, parents, guardians, and healthcare officials from both Susrut and the Government of West Bengal. It was a great learning experience to observe Susrut's outreach effort in identifying and recruiting the vision-poor for further treatment and rehabilitation and Vision-Aid's role.
I saw a large number of school-age children from elementary to high school age with various levels of vision issues anywhere from requiring low-power reading glasses to the vision deprived. A few had very low vision, which could be rectified by surgery and/or appropriate visual aids. Most of them, as it often happens in those circumstances, were enrolled in a School for the Blind and were conversant with Braille but not with traditional reading material. Testing with lights and shapes showed that they had some vision and could identify rudimentary shapes.
Avhijit pointed out, these young people would receive treatment from Susrut and rehabilitation services courtesy Vision-Aid. While it was sad to see children afflicted by any disability, it was nevertheless inspiring to see that the children were cheerful and chattering away like children do! What was even more heartening to see were the number of girls that were also being tested. Photographs from the visit testify.
I followed up with another trip, this time to the Susrut Institute and spent the greater part of the day visiting their various departments. They do have quite a bit of state-of-the-art equipment and innovative ways of testing children - a far cry from the doctors' offices of my childhood! There is a dedicated area for vision rehabilitation. I have asked Avhijit to send a photograph. (My cell phone camera did not work so I could not take any myself). The facilities are constantly swept and remarkably clean.
However, the biggest drawback is that the facility is far from the city, closer to the airport actually, and not very easily accessible by public transportation.
So Susrut, thanks mainly to Avhijit's effort along with Shib Sankar Bagchi’s blessings, and in partnership with the government, has taken the initiative of going to under-privileged areas around Kolkata to provide services and devices - taking the services to the community as they phrase it. The government has provided "resource rooms" for the challenged in some areas. However, the "resources" are lacking. This is where Susrut comes in to fill the void. With Vision-Aid's grant Susrut would like to furnish these resource rooms with appropriate equipment and materials to provide technology based and other rehabilitation services. It would serve these under-served communities and reach a wider targeted audience. To this end, I am forwarding Susrut's letter separately, which explains better how they would like to utilize Vision-Aid funds for providing the aid and services. A budget is also included.
Avhijit and I also discussed following patients and writing up case studies. We went over some of the parameters. These conversations will continue both at Vision-Aid and Susrut in the coming months to see how we can work together on this important project.