P.T. Jyothi Datta

Narayangaon, Jan. 23

DESPITE going into remote rural areas and promising to pick up and drop back people who need cataract surgeries, only a fraction of those identified for surgery actually come, says Dr Sandeep M. Dole of Narayangaon-based Mohan Thuse Netra Rugnalaya and Research Institute (MTNRRI).

His frustration explains the complexity of taking healthcare into rural areas, where it is not just about keeping it affordable or accessible, but also about awareness, he points out.

At a five-hour drive from Mumbai, MTNRRI was started by Dr Manohar K. Dole, Dr Sandeep's father. Today, the 40-bed hospital that runs on private donations and some government funding does about 400 free cataract surgeries per month, he says. The hospital covers a population spread across eight tehsils of three districts, says Dr Sandeep, equipped as it is with three ambulances.

"Only about 40 per cent of people identified for the surgery come with us in the ambulance, because their awareness is low," he observes. Though the surgeries are free, people from tribal areas make excuses not to go in for it. On the pretext of seeking time to speak to their children, they delay the procedure, says Mr S.D. Belotte, also associated with the hospital.

The hospital conducts about 15 eye-camps in a month and Mr Belotte goes on these outreach sessions to speak to local people and address their fears and misconceptions on cataract surgery.

The other reason why people are reticent to avail themselves of treatment is because they are simply resigned to their fate, adds Mr Jasjeet Singh Chaddah, a Mumbai-based entrepreneur, who is involved with the hospital.

"Tribals are in the habit of keeping their animals inside the house. And when an older family member gets cataract he is made to live with the cattle. But he does not feel bad, as that is what he probably did to his previous generation," says Mr Jasjeet. The cataract surgeries help give old people their dignity, he adds.

Dr Dole's family also runs a general hospital in the area and have recently started Atharva Nethralaya, a hi-tech laser centrethat offers complex eye-related treatments at a fraction of the cost at which they are done in nearby cities, representatives with the centre told

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. The idea was to tap people who can afford to pay so that it can help support the free service, points out Dr Sandeep.

For MTNRRI, that had a humble beginning in 1982, the institution has done about 28,000 free cataract surgeries till December 2005 and is growing from strength to strength, he says.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated January 24, 2006)
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