By Ajay Ghosh
“American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) is excited to join in and collaborate with the over decades of service to humanity by Dr. V.K. Raju and Eye Foundation of America (EFA) to provide vision care to millions in India,” declared Dr. Naresh Parikh, President of AAPI, who has been in the forefront, identifying noble projects by Physicians of Indian Origin in India and working with them and coordinating their efforts to maximize the many services they provide across India.
AAPI has been instrumental in establishing and coordinating several projects and programs across India and established many charitable clinics, serving hundreds of thousands of people in several states in India. AAPI has been doing Global Healthcare Summit for over a decade in India and is known for its commitment to give back to India, their motherland. “The collaboration with Dr. Raju and the Foundation will help mobilize the resources at AAPI’s disposal in strengthening the efforts of Dr. Raju,” adds Dr. Parikh.
For the past four decades, Dr. Raju and the EFA have been actively and tirelessly on a crusade to eliminate avoidable blindness in areas plagued by poverty and poor access to medical care. The EFA’s mission is to eliminate avoidable blindness under the guiding principles of service, teaching, and research.
The realization of Dr. Raju’s vision, the EFA, has a reach that currently extends to 30+ developing countries and the USA. The EFA has served approximately 2.5 million patients and performed 340,000+ vision-saving surgeries, with 30,000+ surgeries performed on children alone.
The over 40 years of noble work bringing vision to millions in India started unexpectedly for Dr. Raju. While living in London, Dr. V.K. Raju traveled home to India on vacation, where a farmer asked him to examine his eyes. Dr. Raju complied, but without any instruments. In 1977, Dr. Raju returned to rural India with personnel and equipment and offered his first eye camp near his hometown in 1977. This was the inception of the foundation’s work, beginning with the West Virginia Ophthalmology Foundation. The West Virginia Ophthalmology Foundation subsequently became the EFA in 1992.
“I feel so incredibly thankful for my personal and professional gifts, and I make great efforts to share those gifts with those in need of my services,” says Dr. Raju, and he generously gives freely of his own time, money, and medical expertise to help the less fortunate for the past several decades.
This is accomplished through eye camps and brick-and-mortar hospitals in developing countries, training of medical personnel to serve the needy, and educating the population at large on preventative eye care and healthy lifestyle choices. With adequate education, patients are empowered to take charge of their lives and their own health and prevent further deleterious consequences of their poor lifestyle choices, while sharing this knowledge with their friends and families.
The public is educated on eye care and injury prevention, and local teachers are taught how to screen for early eye problems in children. Patients, their families, and the greater community benefit from preventative medical care, free procedures, and access to education.
When education and preventative measures are insufficient, medical and surgical interventions are performed. With the aim of permanently providing world-class state-of-the art services to populations with poor access to health care, the EFA helped to build 2 hospitals in rural India: the Srikiran Eye Institute and the Goutami Eye Institute.
The Goutami Institute has a wing dedicated exclusively to children, and the EFA has future plans to build a service and research eye hospital in India where no child will be denied treatment and children from around the world can come to receive services. Dr. Raju and the EFA are also committed to finding new cures for age-old eye disease in children.
The Institute has provided service to more than 400,000 patients and 50,000 surgeries have been performed. It has become an autonomous institution, and Raju has raised over $6 million to establish and fund the two facilities. “You can never be tired of giving back,” he says. “But to have real success, your intentions should be pure. It is a spiritual act.”
Since its inception, the EFA has facilitated 600+ physician exchanges and trained 200+ ophthalmologists, equipping these medical practitioners with the tools to join the global fight against blindness. The EFA not only trains medical practitioners to join the global fight against blindness through exchange programs, but also provides workshops and training opportunities for medical students and physicians.
Born and raised in Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh, India, Dr. Raju earned his medical degree from Andhra University and completed an ophthalmology residency and fellowship at the Royal Eye Group of Hospitals in London, England. He is board certified in ophthalmology and is a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons and the American College of Surgeons. He has resided in Morgantown, WV since 1976, where he is currently a Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology at West Virginia University (WVU), the Section Chief of the Ophthalmology Department at Monongalia General Hospital, practices at Regional Eye Associates, and is the Founder and Medical Director of the EFA, a registered non-profit organization.
Dr. Raju has received many honors and awards, including 26 distinguished awards and 17 gold medals. In Dr. Raju’s adopted home state of West Virginia, he was awarded both the Lions Club International (Morgantown) Jarrett Award and the WVU International Service Award in 1995. Morgantown Rotary International presented Dr. Raju with an award for community service in 2000. He also received the Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award from WVU in 2008.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) has awarded Dr. Raju 4 times for his teaching and research contributions, including the Outstanding Humanitarian Award in 2002 as Dr. Raju had donated more than $1 million dollars of his own money that went into building hospitals in India, teaching, and providing services to needy patients.
Dr. Raju received a Lifetime Achievement Award from The Association of Asian Indians in Ophthalmology in the same year and received the Free to Achieve Award from the Maryland chapter of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) for his philanthropy.
AAPI awarded Dr. Raju with their prestigious Distinguished Community Service Award in 2007 for his service, patient care, teaching, research, and professional and community involvement. In 2011, he received a Senior Achievement Award from the AAO. He has received awards from Lions International and Rotary International. For his humanitarian work, the American Medical Association Foundation acknowledged him with the prestigious Dr. Nathan Davis International Award for Excellence in Medicine in 2013. For the past 2 39 years, Dr. Raju has expanded his humanitarian efforts in African countries by joining and joined the Carter Center’s Ambassador Program 2 years ago. President Barack Obama presented Dr. Raju with the 2016 President’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He was recently inducted into the University of Toledo Global Medical Missions Hall of Fame Class of 2017.
Dr. Raju’s international awards date back to the 1970s, when he received 2 separate awards for service for the blind: Lions (India) and Jaycees (Vijayawada, India). He received several gold medals, including the AP (India) Gold Medal for Contributions to Advance Ophthalmology in 2001 and the Dr. Hardia Gold Medal for Best Paper on Refractive Surgery for the All Indian Ophthalmology Society in 2002. He received the Vaidya Ratna in 2002, as well as an achievement award from the House of Lords, London, and the Mahatma Gandhi Pravasi Samman Award for Achievement in Medicine in 2014. He was also recognized as one of the Leading Physicians of the World by the International Association of Ophthalmologists in 2014. Dr. Raju was an invited guest of honor at GITAM University and the All Indian Ophthalmology Society Meeting in 2012.
Dr. Raju, who has travelled to more than 50 30 countries to help people with defective vision, says, he not only sees hundreds of patients in a day, but also teaches other eye doctors. He feels that most of his trips are enjoyable working vacations, particularly in India. “With each visit, I get my insights improved,” he says. “It is like I am getting a gift. Sometimes trips like this feel better than a holiday.”
“As I had said, the farmer I met long ago is the beginning of this work. Maybe so many friends getting involved in the Foundation’s work may be my greatest motivation,” says Dr. Raju. “Confidence is that which compels you to do the thing you think you cannot do, but you continue to do it. Many friends gave me the confidence to keep going. Many close friends were peripherally involved with the Foundation initially, but as the work of the Foundation continued, so did their involvement. This gave me incredible confidence.”
Recalling how a friend of Dr. Raju had told him that after 20+ years of foundation work, “Raju, I believed in your character. That’s why I’m very much part of it,” Dr. Raju says, “I was reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s quote, “Reputation and character are two different things. Reputation is your shadow and character is the real you.” He states, “People from distance know your reputation, but only close friends know your character. This kind of involvement from close friends maybe one of the biggest motivators for continuing the work of the Foundation.”
“Over these years, I read volumes of books by Nani Palkhivala, Mortimer Adler, and some Telugu poets. This also must have motivated me. Finally, I will add this- my mother used to say, “Whatever you do, you keep on doing more and more of it.”
Doctors in America have too many comforts, he comments. “There may be some emptiness in many of us, there is also an intellectual poverty,” he says. “Some of this can be relieved by voluntary service. We have so much potential to help others — and in doing so, we may be helping ourselves much more than others.”
With all of Dr. Raju’s momentous achievements, he has also ensured that his life’s work and vision are self-sustaining. Dr. Raju has passed on his knowledge, plans, and vision to the future leaders of this movement: Dr. Leela Raju, Dr. Raju’s daughter and fellow ophthalmologist, is the EFA’s Secretary and Coordinator for Education and actively participates in its mission. Her father’s humanity and passion stimulate whatever she undertakes, Leela says. “This is not a job for him; it has never been a job,” she says. “He does his work with passion and he enjoys it. His enthusiasm and passion are infectious.”
He believes in and practices Ayurveda, an ancient Indian health care philosophy that emphasizes a holistic approach in which prevention is stressed to help lessen the need for treatment. “Eating right and exercising are the most important preventative measures according to Ayurveda,” says Dr. Raju. “The word ‘doctor’, in Latin, means teacher. A doctor’s primary responsibility is educating the patient,” he continues. In West Virginia, Dr. Raju accepts patients that do not have medical insurance and performs surgical procedures that are not covered by insurance.
India and Ghana are actively engaged in avoidable blindness elimination projects with cooperation from their governments. More than 11,560 children received vision screenings in Ghana schools; eye glasses and follow-up care were provided when necessary, Dr. Raju describes with a sense of satisfaction and pride.
Dr. Raju hopes that the AAPI joining and collaborating with successful projects such as the Eye Foundation of America’s children’s project will provide continuity of care and the mission of AAPI will be realized, benefitting millions who need eyecare.
Praising Dr. Naresh Parikh for his great vision and for seeking collaboration with several individual projects across India by numerous Physicians of Indian Origin, Dr. Raju says, “I dream to do a well-planned mega fundraiser by AAPI for a WORLD WITHOUT CHILDHOOD BLINDNESS.” According to Dr. Raju, the first project will be implemented in India. We will reach 100, 000 children in remote villages of India in the next 12 to 18 months.” Dr. Raju says, “EFA and Goutami Eye Institute have the infrastructure to accomplish this, which could be a model project.”
Dr. Raju’s charisma and vision inspire the EFA’s trainees return to their native countries to prevent and/or alleviate blindness in the field. The execution of his vision, affordable and accessible healthcare, has provided innumerable individuals with the invaluable gift of sight. In children, this gift results in 75 years of a full and productive life. These children, who would be considered a burden to society, are then able to contribute to their families and to society. Never too tired to give his best for preventing, caring, and sustaining the vision for the visually impaired, Dr. Raju says, “Our work is only just beginning.”
As one of the Upanishads say:
“YOU ARE WHAT YOUR DEEP DRIVING DESIRE IS
AS YOUR DESIRE IS , SO IS YOUR WILL
AS YOUR WILL IS, SO IS YOUR DEED
AS YOUR DEED IS , SO IS YOUR DESTINY.”
For more information on AAPI and the EFA, please visit www.aapiusa.org and www.eyefoundationofamerica.org