In thesedays of economic uncertainty, says professor, ophthalmologist and philan- thropist Dr V K Raju, people are viewing
their contributions to charity in a new light,
with many wondering which humanitarian
effort can deliver the most bang for the
Dr Raju, with more than 30 years experience
as a surgeon, has facilitated thousands of eye
surgeries for the poor in many places, including India, Afghanistan and several African
countries. He speaks about turning a child’s
life around by preventing blindness with a
vitamin A supplement that costs only pennies
for a dose. He is talking particularly about the
situation in India where the organization he
founded in Morgantown, West Virginia, over
three decades ago, where a few hundred dollars can fund sight-restoring surgery for a person who would otherwise experience a life
filled with missed opportunities such as a lack
of education. For children, the benefits may
span as many as 75 years-a lifetime of benefits, he adds.
The Eye Foundation of America, which Dr Raju has been
running for a long time, is poised for a major expansion
this year in many rural pockets in India. It is funded by Dr
Raju’s own contributions and the donations he receives
from some of his patients and the people at large. It has a
new president, Jay Reddy, the foundation’s second one,
who recently succeeded Dr Raju. The West Virginia businessman, says Dr Raju, will bring new entrepreneurial
skills and philanthropic aspirations to the organization.
Dr Raju recently received the American Medical
Association’s Dr Nathan David International Award,
which honored him, describing him as an extraordinary
person in medicine. It also recognizes his efforts for his
contributions in the fight against blindness and offered
tribute to the lives that he has touched through sight-sav-ing procedures worldwide.
Dr Raju recently announced ‘100,000 Lives,’ a fundraising campaign aimed at providing eye care to 100,000 people in rural India during 2014.
The campaign will focus on those who suffer from diabetes and are at risk for, or may already be suffering from
diabetic retinopathy - a condition that often leads to
blindness if left untreated. Studies have shown that if diabetic retinopathy is detected and treated early, blindness
can be averted up to 90 percent of the time.
It’s estimated that more than 61 million people in India
have diabetes and that one out of every two are unaware
of their condition. More than half India’s diabetic population lives in rural areas where needed health care is virtually non-existent. Dr Raju is looking for the campaign to
raise $1 million.
“Our fundraising campaign has been created to cover
both the hard costs of getting our people and equipment
to the remote areas that are so desperate for this care,” he
said, “as well as a way for us to economically source the
technology and equipment,” he said.
He is not looking at the mission as a charity.
“We have to empower people - not unlimited charity is
not our goal,” Dr Raju says. Education will play an important role in preventing blindness among children.
Eighty percent of our learning is through vision,” he
said, adding that that was why his foundation focuses on
blindness avoidable in childhood.
The foundation also seeks to provide a good education
on dealing with diabetes.
“Diabetes today is going to bankrupt developing coun-
tries if the present trends continue. Even developed
nations feel the burden of diabetes-related diseases,” said
Dr Raju, whose mother died of diabetes complications
when he was young. “Unlike a few decades ago, today
there is a lot of literature available in changing our
lifestyles and leading a life that will keep away dangerous
Diabetic retinopathy is the result of blood sugar levels
weakening blood vessels in the retina. Over time this
causes blood to seep into the eye - often leading to blind-
ness. The International Diabetes Federation estimates
that nearly 20 percent of the world’s population with dia-
betes (61.3 million people) lives in India. For Dr Raju and
the foundation see that just as dire as those statistics are,
the prevalence of people going blind from diabetic
retinopathy in rural India is an immense concern.
Data suggests that if diabetic retinopathy is detected
and treated early, blindness can be averted up to 90 percent of the time. Dr Raju is striving to bring that level of
success to rural India where screenings are rare and
access to treatment is virtually nonexistent.
“Blindness from diabetic retinopathy is so preventable
that our upcoming mission will have a profound effect on
the life of virtually every person that we treat,” Dr Raju
said. “Diabetes and its complications are going to be the
worst in developing nations. Most of the organizations
concentrate on cataract blindness and diabetic blindness
may become 10 times worse than cataract blindness.
Most cataract-related blindness occurs in rela-
tively older people, whereas diabetic blindness
can affect individuals during their more produc-
The Eye Foundation of America this year will
deploy healthcare teams for eye care clinics in
India and other countries, including Tanzania.
Dr Raju and his support team will spend several
weeks in India.
Even ancient Indian sages had warned again
‘It may be prognosticated that an idle man
who indulges in day sleep, or follows sedentary
pursuits or is in the habit of taking sweet liquids,
or cold and fat-making or emollient food,’
Susruta wrote, “will ere long fall an easy victim
to this disease.’
On a personal level, Dr Raju, who looks athlet-
ic and can be mistaken for a man in his mid 50s,
leads a spartan life, even when he travels and
makes sure that he eats simple but nutritious
food. “If nothing else is available, I am very
happy with lentil soup and yogurt,” he says.
Foundation President Jay Reddy, who had consulted Dr Raju many years ago, says his dream is a world
in which everyone has equal access to education, whatever their social or economic status. He believes that the
foundation’s goal of eliminating avoidable blindness is a
giant step in that direction. He calls education a ‘great
equalizer,’ especially for underprivileged children, who
stand the most to lose from vision problems.
Reddy is founder and former CEO of ProLogic, Inc, a
company that delivers technology solutions to the US
government. He oversaw the business as it grew from one
person to over 300 people in 2008, and led the company
through a merger year. He is now its chairman.
Reddy was born in southern India and came to the US
after graduating from the Institute of Bangalore with a
degree in computer science. He went on to earn a master’s
degree from Virginia Tech and an MBA from West Virginia
University. He has been active in the foundation for nearly
a decade and is involved with other nonprofits that promote equal access to education for the world’s children.
He has admired Dr Raju’s work for many years. The West
Virginia-based ophthalmologist envisioned the Eye
Foundation of America in 1979 after volunteering his
spare time to conduct eye camps and provide free eye
care for years in his native India. He created the
Foundation to extend the work’s scope and to partner
with other organizations who shared the same goals,
maximizing its capabilities many times over.
Dr Raju also helped found the Goutami Eye Institute in
2006, a fully equipped eye hospital in Rajahmundry, with
a wing dedicated to children’s eye problems. The institute,
which is also a teaching hospital, has trained 200 ophthalmologists, served 400,000 patients, and performed 50,000
surgeries in the short time it has been in operation.
Educated in India, Great Britain, and the US, Dr Raju
has a large private practice in Morgantown where he is
also an adjunct clinical professor of ophthalmology at
West Virginia University’s School of Medicine. He spends
his ‘spare’ time teaching and performing surgery and
medical services on a volunteer basis for the Eye
Foundation of America.
For more information about the Eye Foundation, visit
Looking out for the blind
A42 Support a Cause Response Feature India Abroad November 29, 2013
The Eye Foundation,
the creation of Dr V K Raju
that addresses preventable
blindness, is doing more than
its fair share around the globe
Dr V K Raju treats a young patient.