Eye Foundation of America's Indian American Founder VK Raju to Speak at Rotary Club of Kolkata ...

Renowned ophthalmologist and president and founder of the Eye Foundation of America Dr. V.K. Raju has been chosen to serve as the keynote speaker at a Jan. 1 100th anniversary event at the Rotary Club of Kolkata.

Born in Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh, Raju earned his medical degree from Andhra University and completed an ophthalmology residency and fellowship at the Royal Eye Group of Hospitals in London.

The Indian American physician is board certified in ophthalmology, and is a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons and the American College of Surgeons.

He moved to the United States in 1976 and has since resided in Morgantown, West

Virginia, where he is currently a clinical professor of ophthalmology at West Virginia University, runs practices at Regional Eye, and is the

founder and medical director of the nonprofit Eye Foundation of American.

Raju is also the director of the International Ocular Surface Society, director of the Ocular Surface Research and Education Foundation, MBBS at Andhra University in India, and the chairman of the Goutami Eye Institute in Rajahmundry. 

Serving as the keynote of the upcoming centenary event isn’t the first great honor bestowed on Raju.

He has also received numerous awards, including the AMA Foundation Nathan Davis Excellence in Medicine International Award; four-time awardee by The American Academy of Ophthalmology; Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award from WVU; Distinguished Community Service Award from the American Association of Physicians from India; Pride of the Pride Award from Lions International District 29 Vaidya Ratna; Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Association of Ophthalmologists of Indian Origin; and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the WV State Medical Association.

Raju also was among the class of 2017 inductees into the University of Toledo Global Medical Missions Hall of Fame, the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award from President Barack Obama, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the North America Telegu Society.

“The Rotary is a very near and dear partner to the Eye Foundation of America's heart. The Rotary has done amazing things on a local, national and global scale- most notably the work to end polio. The Eye Foundation of America works to back Rotary causes as well, especially those that work towards public health and disease prevention,” Raju explained in an interview with India-West.

The 100-year history of this club is a monumental occasion, with Raju speaking on the work of the Eye Foundation as well as the collaborative project the EFA and the Kolkata Rotary Club are embarking on: “The Retinopathy of Prematurity.”

The project has been growing steadily in India for some time now. The Eye Foundation of America will be gifting a Ret-Cam during the celebration. With this device, ophthalmologists in Kolkata will be able to more efficiently and accurately screen more premature babies for the disease, allowing the possibility for vision saving laser treatments or surgery as needed. Without the screening, many premature babies would be blind for life.

“This speaking event will be a great chance to further the joint mission of saving lives and improving health,” Raju told India-West.

During a trip to India in 1977, the physician was approached with a request to use his ophthalmology experience to examine a local farmer with an eye problem. He realized just how much his home country needed eye care services, especially for under-served and under-privileged areas.

He began returning to Andhra Pradesh every few months to conduct “eye camps” in rural locations where he and a team of medical professionals trained in eye care would perform vision screenings, check for glasses, provide medications, and recommend surgery, he explained.

As the eye camps grew in size and frequency, Raju realized the need for a more established care center to provide surgeries free of charge. The first eye hospital was constructed and ophthalmologists were hired full time to provide care, he added.

In 1982, the EFA was originally founded as the West Virginia Ophthalmology Foundation Inc. In 1990, the name was changed to the West Virginia Eye Foundation, Inc. The final name change happened in 1992 under the advice of a friend, who recommended a name that would encompass the wider spread of the foundation. The Eye Foundation of America has been so-called since 1992, Raju told India-West.

The mission of EFA is to prevent blindness by going where the need is greatest—often rural and remote areas of developing countries where there is no medical care or where the cost of the care is prohibitive.

“Our primary goal is to eliminate avoidable childhood blindness. Although the Eye Foundation of America serves people of all ages, we have a special place in our hearts for children because it is they who have the most to lose,” he said.

“Visually impaired or blind children grow up without the same advantages as sighted children. Unable to read and write, they often cannot support themselves as adults and may become dependent on their families and /or communities,” Raju added.

Raju continued to note that premature babies are also a focus, as they can suffer from Retinopathy of Prematurity, a retinal condition unique to premature babies as a result of receiving too much oxygen.

“With help from our donors and volunteers worldwide, we have been able to screen over 200,000 premature babies and perform treatments on hundreds of babies that are affected by this disease,” he said.

In addition to preventing childhood blindness, the EFA plans to touch the lives of 100,000 people in India as a part of its ongoing efforts to eliminate avoidable blindness due to diabetes and diabetic retinopathy — a condition that often leads to blindness if left untreated.

In addition to these primary focus points, the EFA also contributes to Vitamin A supplements and education efforts, he said.

To date, the Eye Foundation of America has performed over 3 million vision screenings. Over 650,000 sight-saving surgeries have been performed at no cost, the foundation notes.

Hundreds of thousands of pairs of glasses have been provided, often the simplest form of vision care, but one which makes a huge impact to each person. The EFA also coordinates education for medical professionals, including grand rounds teaching sessions, fellowship programs for residents, and additional specialty training for ophthalmologists, it said.

In the coming years, Raju said that the Eye Foundation of America will continue to provide care to those that need it – poverty stricken, rural and under-privileged people around the world.

“We will continue to collaborate with groups that need our resources while growing our own footprint. In the immediate future, the Eye Foundation of America is thrilled to announce the imminent construction of another eye hospital in Rajahmundry,” he told India-West. “We have outgrown our current space at Goutami Eye Institute and we will be moving into a five-floor facility with wings devoted specifically to ocular oncology, pediatric ophthalmology, and retinopathy of prematurity.”

The current Goutami Eye Institute will serve as a vision therapy and occupational rehabilitation center to help those individuals effected by vision-threatening diseases or blindness regain their independence and learn new skills, Raju said.

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