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Providing For All

Congratulations on your induction into the ASCRS Hall of Fame!

I feel very humbled and honored. To be commemorated in this way is a huge deal and totally unexpected. When I accepted the honor, I told the audience that the very fact they had recognized me was symbolic of their commitment to eliminate needless blindness in the world.

You were a former IAPB president, and your career has focused heavily on providing universal eyecare…

I am passionate about it. When we launched the Vision 2020 program nearly 20 years ago, one of our friends said, “There may be disputes about human rights, but there should be no dispute about the human right to sight.” And I strongly feel that way too – everybody should have the right to good health and education. I feel very happy that the IAPB has been successfully tackling these issues – and putting blindness on governmental agendas.

As I understand it, there is no parallel in any other area of healthcare. We have everyone involved; both governmental and non-governmental sectors have come together to eliminate one of the major public health problems in the world. And through Vision 2020 and the other efforts of many organizations around the world, the resources available to eyecare have become much larger. By 2020, a larger number of countries will have the necessary framework to deliver high-quality care. I think that preventable problems like river blindness, trachoma and vitamin A deficiency will be more or less eliminated by 2025. We’re already testing cost-effective solutions for cataract and refractive errors, and next I think public health approaches will tackle the major impending problems (like diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma) head on.

What influences your values?

The way I was brought up strongly influenced me – starting with my grandfather who was a freedom fighter, to my father who came from a very humble background but became an ophthalmologist. He always told us that education is the most important thing in life – but that there is no need to show off. My parents are very simple people and that has hugely influenced who I am today – it all sunk in to become part of my personality. I have also had great and inspiring teachers, from those at the village school I went to in my early childhood to some of the most outstanding leaders in the field of eyecare.

Everybody should have the right to good health and education.

How did you embody your beliefs at your institute?

Thirty years ago, when I came back to India from the US, my vision was to develop a high-quality academic eye center in Hyderabad – and nothing beyond that. But as the work began, we started seeing the problems – and their magnitude and variety. We saw that the real problems were out in remote and rural communities – and that lead to a steady evolution of the institute based on real need and how best we could take care of the most disadvantaged populations. And our work will continue. One of the unique features of our institute is the interesting blend of cutting-edge research, care and education, alongside the horizontal approach of going to the remotest rural and tribal areas to take care of the people who need our services the most.

What is your current involvement in the institute?

Since I stopped delivering patient care 15 years ago, I have been mostly involved in looking at the future of the institute; the vision, new partnerships and collaborations and networking across the world, as well as raising and mobilizing more resources for our work.

I think I have the best job in ophthalmology in the world! I have a combination of everything ophthalmology has to offer – leadership, institute development, executive responsibilities, patient care and policies, education, research and innovation. I have been very fortunate to experience every aspect of ophthalmology and eyecare. But one thing I have not done is work for an ophthalmic investor!

What comes to mind when you reflect on your career?

There are three defining aspects of my professional career; the first was growing up in a village until I was 10 years old, which laid a very strong foundation for my life and values, as I noted above. The second big event was my residency training in New Delhi, where my thinking changed from the concept of simply practicing medicine to combining it with teaching and research. And thirdly, I was greatly inspired and influenced by those who taught me at US institutions. However, my career would not have been possible without the support of my family and my wife – who has always been behind me. Nor would it have been possible without the many dedicated and hard working associates at L V Prasad who derive such pleasure from touching some of the most neglected people in the world. All of these things contributed to where I am today, and I am so grateful to everyone.

Any advice for those following in your footsteps?

Just to do your thing and chase your dreams – and the rest will follow.

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About the Author

Gullapalli Rao

The LV Prasad Eye Institute, a world-renowned eye hospital in Hyderabad, India, is the brainchild of Gullapalli Rao. Rao left India in 1974 to train in the USA; despite enjoying his time there immensely, he returned home in 1986 to pursue his dream.

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