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Aravind Eye receives 2008 Gates award for global health

In recognition of its groundbreaking work to prevent debilitating blindness and provide affordable, world-class eye care to the poor, the Aravind Eye Care System, based in Tamil Nadu, India, has won the 2008 Gates Award for Global Health. The US$ 1 million Gates Award – the world’s largest prize for international health – honors extraordinary efforts to improve health in developing countries. Founded by Dr. G. Venkataswamy in 1976, Aravind has saved millions of people in India from debilitating blindness. Cataracts account for more than half the cases of blindness in India. In the past year, Aravind provided out-patient care to approximately 2.4 million patients and performed more than 280,000 surgeries. Thanks in part to Aravind’s efforts, the estimated number of blind people in India fell from 8.9 million in 1990 to 6.7 million in 2002, a decline of 25%. William H. Gates Sr., co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will present the award on May 29 at the Global Health Council’s 35th Annual International Conference in Washington, DC. “Being blind in a rural village in the developing world leaves a person in darkness and dependence, often unable to earn a living or assist in the duties of their household,” said Mr. Gates. “Aravind has given sight to millions of men, women, and children, enabling them to participate fully in the lives of their families and communities.” Since 1976, Aravind has grown from a rented house with 11 beds to a thriving network of hospitals and satellite clinics that provide eye exams and surgeries, train health care professionals, conduct research, and manufacture eye care products. Outreach teams from Aravind hospitals coordinate with local leaders and service groups across India to organize “eye camps” that provide free exams. Since 2004, Aravind has used high-speed broadband access to link these camps directly to on-call doctors in central hospitals. The doctors can diagnose and refer patients in real time, ensuring that only those who require surgery make the journey to the hospital. “All people have a right to sight,” said Dr. Perumalsamy Namperumalsamy, chairman of Aravind. “We hope that this award will encourage others to develop creative, sustainable solutions to blindness and other global health challenges.” Aravind’s innovative business model enables it to provide the same high-quality care to every patient, regardless of their ability to pay, without charitable contributions. The organization enlists local businesses to sponsor eye care hospitals, and subsidizes care for the poor through fees from paying patients and global sales of eye care products. “Ensuring that the world’s poorest people can access essential health care is an ongoing challenge in global health,” said Dr. Nils Daulaire, president of the Global Health Council. “Aravind has demonstrated that there are ways to do good and commit to providing the highest quality services while utilizing the latest technologies and scientific advances.”

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