Some people make things happen. Some watch it happen while others wonder what has happened. Put India-born Dr V K Raju in the first category. Although this West
Virginia ophthalmologist moved to the US many years ago, he
never left his home behind - and he honors his roots with his
work. He makes a difference in the lives of thousands of West
Virginia residents in his private practice - and thousands more
in India when he returns there on his volunteer missions.
For over three decades, Dr Raju, who studied and trained in
India and London, has committed himself to combating
avoidable blindness at home and abroad. Avoidable blindness,
Dr Raju explains, is which can be treated or prevented with
today’s knowledge and resources. He has helped restore sight
to hundreds of thousands of patients worldwide and inspired
those around him to commit to a lifetime of learning and volunteer work.
In 1979, Dr Raju organized The Eye Foundation of America
as a way to exchange ideas between the United States and
India and to provide fellowships for physicians in developing
countries. The foundation has since trained American doctors
on how to establish clinics worldwide and conducts research
Dr Raju recently expanded the program of voluntary services to reach 100,000 diabetics in India and in West Virginia.
The International Diabetes Federation estimates that nearly
20 percent of the world’s population with diabetes (61.3 million people) lives in India, and therefore, Dr Raju’s volunteer
work in India takes immense significance.
All of this volunteer work in India and elsewhere is done
through the Eye Foundation of America.
Dr Raju’s humanitarian work began in 1977, shortly after he
accepted a faculty position at West Virginia University. “I went
on a vacation to India, and a farmer came to show his eyes to
me, and I did not have any instruments [to treat him],” he
The lack of medical care available around his hometown of
Rajahmundry prompted Dr Raju to return to India the next
year and provide free and subsidized eyecare services to local
residents, especially in rural areas.
Two years later, Dr Raju began making annual “eye relief”
trips to India, recruiting other doctors and eyecare professionals to come with him.
Through these “eye camps,” Dr Raju and his team were able
to provide much-needed care to large numbers of patients
without the need for them to travel to a hospital-overcoming a
major obstacle in the delivery of healthcare in India. Today, all
the surgical procedures are performed at Goutami Eye
Institute in Andhra Pradesh.
Only screenings, refractions and so forth continue to be performed in eye camps. This is an economical way to deliver
healthcare to many.
Dr Raju says he experienced incredible changes in medical
practices in India during the last 30 years, but also stressed the
need for healthcare systems around the world to focus on pre-
vention and primary care, rather than just tertiary or speciali-
ty care. “The US setup a primary care health system in the
1920s, but in India, with a growing population with diabetes
and resulting diabetic retinopathy, too much focus on special-
ty care these days is bad news,” he explains. “There are pock-
ets of excellence there in India, but we're talking about 1.3 bil-
lion people. Tertiary care is wonderful; it makes sensational
news, and makes money too. But primary care and secondary
care are the most important for diabetes.”
When it comes to solving real-world problems, Dr Raju
quoted his late mentor, Rollin Arthur Burn, MD. “There are
three solutions for every problem,” he said. “The first is edu-
cation, the second is education, and the third is education.” Dr
Raju emphasized the need to educate patients, physicians, and
politicians alike to ensure efficient healthcare delivery. Patient
education is one of the biggest challenges he faces as an oph-
thalmologist, both in the US and the developing world. As a
physician, he has worked tirelessly to give patients knowledge
that is critical to how they care for their eyes.
Dr Raju estimates that the foundation has provided critical
care to more than 2 million people globally. Its staff has performed some 300,000 sight-restoring operations to date.
The Eye Foundation of America also works with
Johns Hopkins University on vitamin A deficiency in children
in 14 countries. “A simple $0.05 vitamin A tablet taken twice
a year by children below the age of 5 could give thousands a
chance of 75 years of productive life,” he explains.
In addition to dedicating a large amount of time and effort
to help those in need, Dr Raju has donated much of his own
personal wealth to fund the foundation’s projects-all in all,
more than a million dollars. Many of his friends and co-workers in the US and India joined and supported the foundation
immensely in the last 10 years.
“I give all my LASIK money to the foundation,” he explains.
“Each time I do a LASIK here, 50-60 children will get glasses
in some other part of the world-or, two children will get sur-
gery for congenital cataracts and have 75 years of life to live.”...
Dr Raju’s foundation also recently announced that it was
working with the Gourami Eye Institute in India to provide
international learning opportunities for ophthalmology students who have an interest in diabetic retinopathy.
The program will provide students hands-on experience
performing in-the-field diabetic retinopathy preventative
screenings as well as hospital-based experience at the
Goutami Eye Institute, which is also a teaching hospital.
In the past few years, Dr Raju and other ophthalmologists in
his support group have helped the vision-impaired in
Afghanistan and Iraq as well. It was a logical step, he said.
“Somebody asked me, ‘Why Afghanistan?’ and I said, ‘India
may not need me anymore,’ “ Dr Raju said.
“A lot of people need medical care all over the world,” he
said. “If everybody does a little, we’ll see a big change.”
The Eye Foundation of America, like in the previous years,
will deploy healthcare teams for eye care clinics in India and
beyond, including other countries such as Tanzania. Dr Raju,
himself, with support team members will spend time in India
at least three times during the year.
Dr Raju said he finds each trip both rewarding and educational. “One thing I love most is learning,” Dr Raju said.
“There is never enough we can learn in our lives.”
Education is very important to Raju -- learning the wisdom
and mistakes of others to improve our lives. One of the lessons
he’s learned helped shape his own life.
“If you want to be happy, make others happy,” he said. “I
love what I do.” His wisdom has been rewarded as well, with
multiple honors, among others, being the “Top
Ophthalmologist” in the World International Association of
Ophthalmologists in 2014; the American Medical
Association’s “AMA Foundation Nathan Davis Excellence in
Medicine International Award 2013;” and the “Distinguished
Community Service Award,” by the American Association of
Physicians of Indian origin 2007.
Dedicated to eliminating avoidable blindness
For over 35 years,
Dr VK Raju has volunteered
his time and money to
combating blindness at
home and abroad, inspiring
many around him to a
lifetime of charity work
Clockwise, from left, Dr V K Raju; Dr Raju attending to a patient; Dr Raju in the operation theater at the Gourami Eye Institute in India.
India Abroad October 3, 2014 Response Feature A77