SRI SANKARADEVA NETHRALAYA - THE HI-TECH EYE CARE CENTRE AND POSTGRADUATE INSTITUTE OF OPHTHALMOLOGY OF THE NORTHEAST

 

The incidence of blindness is the highest in the Northeastern Region of the country. Blindness is more prevalent among the economically underprivileged villagers. The infrastructural facilities for eye care in villages of the Northeastern Region are very scanty. The huge backlog of cataract patients is causing a negative impact on the regional economy. Cataract blindness is curable. After surgery, near normal vision and restoration of near total quality of life is possible. To eliminate this needless blindness, the practice of community ophthalmology service is well known and well established in India but unfortunately, in Northeast India, there is no institution for community ophthalmology where service as well as development of Human Resources on this subspecialty can be undertaken on a regular basis. The National Programme for Control of Blindness (NPCB) of Govt. of India has noted that the Northeastern part of the country is under-served and there is immediate need for increasing the performance by 100%; otherwise, blindness will be a major health problem in Northeastern States. The survey shows that about 40% of the population needs some type of eye treatment at any point of time. The per capita income of the local inhabitants is far below the national average. Hence, a huge number of eye patients continue to suffer either for non-availability of appropriate treatment or for economic reason.

It was therefore the realization of Their Holiness the Sankaracharyas of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam, Kanchipuram to establish a modern eye hospital with all facilities to serve the people of the Northeast. It is the Divine Blessings of Their Holiness that the Sun God had come out of the horizon to give light to the people of the Northeast. With this aim and objective, a charitable trust for establishing an eye hospital in Guwahati was formed with some eminent personalities of the region from different walks of life as its trustees for the purpose. It is the determination and unrelenting efforts of these trustees towards fulfillment of Their Holiness' desire that saw the establishment of Sri Sankaradeva Nethralaya in Guwahati. It was the kind gesture of a philanthropic tea-planter Sri Dipankar Chatterjee of Kolkata to donate his building to SKSHEF for the purpose. It is the coming together of a few like-minded doctors headed by Dr. Harsha Bhattacharjee without any self-interest to form the base of the Nethralaya for providing their selfless service to the people. Above all, it is the people's participation that had culminated into the development of Sri Sankaradeva Nethralaya, a premier eye hospital in the Northeast India, on 14th October 1994, named after the great Vaishnavite Saint of the region, Srimanta Sankardev. The Nethralaya is a non-profit service organization in view of the fact that it was established by a registered charitable trust - Sri Kanchi Sankara Health And Educational Foundation. It is the only state-of-the-art ophthalmic service centre as well as postgraduate training institute in the entire northeast. The hospital was established out of public donations, bank loans, and with a team of dedicated doctors & staff. It is a professional institution rendering quality eye care services with highest moral, legal and ethical standards.

 

The services of the hospital were dedicated to the nation on 24th November 1995 by the then prime minister of India P. V. Narasimha Rao and the subsequent visit of the former President of India K. R. Narayanan on 9th November 1998. Divine grace, untiring human effort and an efficient management saw the institution grow over the years.
As the demand for its services grew manifold over the years and the need for expansion of its services, the hospital had embarked on a plan to construct its own building. It was felt that the proposed hospital building of Nethralaya could be built with the help and support of the Govt. of Assam, Govt. of India, North Eastern Council and other philanthropic organizations. Accordingly, a new building of its own was constructed and the Hospital was shifted to the new building premises on 26th October 2001.
The Institution launched its structured outreach community services for rural patients of the region at their doorsteps in the year 1997 just 3 years after its inception, which is on the increase. Towards this, it has set up 3 community out-reach service centers in different parts of Guwahati in collaboration with local NGO's like 'Free' Satellite Centre at Bonda, Ramkrishna Mission at Chatribari and Bharat Sevashram Sangha at Kalapahar.. Nethralaya regularly conducts eye camps in rural areas also (apart from those organized at the three satellite centres) where patients requiring surgery are brought to the base hospital for treatment. The entire cost of treatment (including investigation procedures, if any, required and surgery with Intra Ocular Lens implant), two-way transportation, food, medicines and stay accommodation is borne by the institution. Active support from the Govt. of India through its DoNER Ministry, Ministry of Social Justice and Human Empowerment, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and North Eastern Council; Govt. of Assam, Tea & Oil sectors, Banks & Financial Institutions, philanthropic organizations and individuals and above all, people's participation - have all contributed towards blooming of this hospital into a socially relevant scientific institution.

The new hospital building houses its various departments such as Out Patient Departments (OPD), Ward, Medical Records Department (MRD), EDP, Optical Shop and Pharmacy. It has also set up a state-of-the-art Laboratory for Microbiology and Histopathology.

 

Keeping in tune with the challenges and technological advancements of the 21st century the Nethralaya is today able to serve with more precision and perfection, offering services of all the subspecialty clinics such as laser, cataract & refractive surgery, medical retina, uvea, contact lens and low vision aids, cornea, ocular prosthesis, electro diagnostics, orbit and oculoplasty, fundus fluorescein angiography, medical photography, retina and vitreous surgery, glaucoma, squint and orthoptics, Botox etc. The latest additions to its long list of facilities include the LASIK centre (for correction of refractive errors in myopic patients with laser technology), General Anaesthesia with ICUs, Executive Vision Screening Programme, Optical Dispensing Unit, Utility Corner (In-house Pharmacy) and PCR Laboratory. Over and above, it also has 10 state-of-the-art Operation Theatres and ICU.

The hospital has also set up a Pediatric OPD in its premises in collaboration with ORBIS International, a reputed International aid agency working for healthcare worldwide, under SSN-ORBIS Project. This pediatric OPD is exclusive for child patients up to the age group of 14 years. The SSN-ORBIS project started in June 2004 and ended in December 2007. Under this project, various eye care activities like conducting eye screening camps and carrying out survey of blind schools in different parts of the Northeast were undertaken and appropriate treatment given to poor patients at the base hospital (Sri Sankaradeva Nethralaya). This project was assessed as the best among similar collaborative projects of few other institutions of the country during the same period. After the SSN-ORBIS Project came to a close, the hospital is privileged to have got other national and international partners in the form of Light for the World', 'HelpMeSee' and 'Mission for Vision' - which work for eye care development worldwide. Under these projects, the hospital performs free cataract surgeries to poor and needy patients of the region over a period of time in line with the project plan, with reimbursement of the cost of 'free' services being provided to the Institution by the collaborating NGO partners.

 

The Consultants of Nethralaya are well trained in clinical and surgical procedures of their respective subspecialties. They regularly attend National and International Conferences to update their knowledge in their respective fields. Every year two Consultants are sent for overseas training in latest techniques and procedures. Moreover, the consultants of the institution have had more than 55 publications of their scientific paper/poster presentations in state, national as well as international journals of ophthalmology.

 

The Nethralaya has always been guided by its policy that quality eye care services must be made available to all the communities irrespective of their economic status or historic nature of geographical locations. It is with this policy that it has assisted in the development of human and technical resources in a number of hospitals in the Northeastern States of Tripura (P.C. Chatterjee Memorial Eye Hospital, Dharmanagar, West Tripura), Meghalaya (Bawri Nethralaya, Shillong) and even as far as in the state of Haryana (Baba Behari Nethralaya, Sirsa) and Hrishikesh (Nirmal Ashram Eye Institute). The institution encourages dissemination of knowledge through educational and research activities and accordingly is in process of establishing an exclusive facility for Preventive & Community Ophthalmology and an Institute of Clinical Research in Ophthalmology.

 

The year 1997 also saw the establishment of a state-of-the-art Eye Bank of Sri Sankaradeva Nethralaya with affiliation of the Indian Eye Bank Association. It is today performing many corneal transplant surgeries and providing humane service to the poor and needy and is the first accredited Corneal Transplant Centre of the Northeastern Region.

 

Sri Sankaradeva Nethralaya has also emerged as a premier centre for postgraduate education in ophthalmology. Postgraduate Course in Ophthalmology - DNB (Diplomate of National Board) with affiliation of National Board of Examinations, New Delhi under the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare of Govt. of India, is conducted by the Institute every year. It also offers 1-year Fellowship in General Ophthalmology to Postgraduate students. The Institute got its DNB accreditation in the year 2000 and since then its alumni awarded with DNB have been engaged in the respective departments of the institution as well as in other institutions in India and abroad.

 

The institution has also set up a state-of-the-art Wetlab for surgical training. It is providing technical training in different surgical procedures to doctors of various departments of the State Governments of the Northeast and other States under National Programme for Control of Blindness (NPCB) of Govt. of India. It also accommodates students of Nursing and other Paramedical Courses from Regional Institute of Paramedical and Nursing Sciences (RIPANS) and other Institutions of the Northeastern States for exposure training every year. The institution also allows BS-Optometry course students from institutes of different parts of the country to undergo Internship Programme for periods ranging from 3 months to 1 year.

 

Sri Sankaradeva Nethralaya was also recognized as a Programme Study Centre for conducting classes for BS-Optometry course students of Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) since August 2007.

 

The Institution ensures a busy academic calendar dotted with Continuing Medical Education (CME) programmes, conferences, seminars, workshops etc. It firmly believes that the most modern service facilities for comprehensive eye care are of use only when they are provided to the people at affordable cost.

To add one more feather to its cap, the Nethralaya was also visited by the then Prime Minister Dr. S. Manmohan Singh on 21st November 2004 when the Institution was declared as a "Centre of Excellence". It is indeed a great honour to our Institution in recognition of its services in the field of Ophthalmology.
The institution has also had the privilege of the visit of the former President of India, Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam on 9th March 2007.

It is mentioned with pleasure that the Institution has now been awarded with ISO 9001 : 2008 certification.

 

The Hospital is presently working on an expansion project for creating facilities for R&D and ophthalmic education. With this objective, a proposal was submitted to the Govt. of India for construction of an additional building for establishing an Institute of Clinical Ophthalmology and other allied services that include an exclusive Out Patient Department for senior citizens. The Nethralaya is grateful to the Govt. of India for accepting its proposal and sanctioning a Grant-in-Aid to our institution under the 12th Finance Commission, with the help of which a new building (Institute of Ophthalmology) has been constructed on the plot of land adjoining the existing hospital building. This new infrastructure developed would accommodate academic and research work activities like Postgraduate (MS) courses and B.Sc. Optometry, B.Sc. Ophthalmic Assistant and Ophthalmic Nursing Assistant courses with affiliation of Srimanta Sankaradeva University of Health Sciences, Guwahati, Assam and various projects under Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and Department of Bio-technology (DBT) under the Govt. of India.

 

With an aim to increase the quantum of its free services to the downtrodden sections of the society, the Institution had submitted a proposal to the Govt. of India for construction of a new building exclusively for Community Ophthalmology, which had also been accepted and necessary Grant-in-Aid sanctioned to us with the help of which the new building (Institute of Community Ophthalmology) has recently been built on the plot of land on which the old building of Nethralaya donated by a tea planter and philanthropist of Kolkata (who, incidentally, is also a Trustee of the Foundation Trust of the Nethralaya) existed and from where it was operating in its initial years.

 

A Family Eye Clinic of Nethralaya was also established in Tezpur on 26th November 2011. A recent social eye health project namely, "Hospital Based Community Eye Health Programme" has been undertaken by the Institution in collaboration with an International NGO, 'Operation Eyesight Universal' and under which a 'Vision Centre' has been established in Sonapur near Guwahati, Assam to take care of the community outreach activities of the project in rural areas surrounding the centre.

 

Further, the Nethralaya is a 'Referral Centre' for the Govt. of Assam and several public sector organizations viz. Indian Oil Corpn. (IOC), Oil India Ltd. (OIL), Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), Power Grid Corpn., Numaligarh Refinery Ltd. (NRL) and Northeastern Frontier Railway (NFRly.) have made empanelment arrangement with it for ophthalmic treatment of their employees and family members.

Today, after completion of its dedicated service to the nation for over a decade-and-a-half, the Nethralaya would like to redeem its solemn pledge to continue its humble contribution towards world-class eye care, community service, development of human resource, ophthalmic education and research and last but not the least, to provide comprehensive eye care to all.




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