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The Philanthropic Ophthalmologist

One facet of lifestyle that the report did not delve deeply into is philanthropy; if it had, it is likely that ophthalmologists would have excelled in this category too.

Deep within ourselves, we all have a desire to care for, nourish, develop and enhance the lives of less fortunate fellow humans. For most people, that urge is satisfied by giving money and/or time to the causes closest to their hearts. For physicians, the contribution can be much more impactful and rewarding. In the case of ophthalmologists, the impact and reward are off the charts. Nine out of 10 people who are visually impaired live in developing countries; in eight out of 10 cases, that visual impairment could be avoided or cured. This explains why so many ophthalmologists spend part of their vacation time in developing countries, removing cataracts and performing other surgical procedures in an almost production-line manner.

These traveling ophthalmologists have a transformational effect upon the lives of every patient that they treat. It’s a great humanitarian gift, requiring a combination of years of postgraduate ophthalmology training and funding from organizations like Sightsavers and The Fred Hollows Foundation. Unfortunately, despite best efforts, the problem remains a massive one, with most of the people who would benefit from surgery not being treated.

Another interpretation of the philanthropic ophthalmologist is provided by Gullapalli Rao. His narrative of building the LV Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad, India is this month’s feature, and it is stirring stuff (see page 16). Over half of the institute’s patients are treated free of charge – a proportion that rises further in the rural outreach centers.

Battling blindness in developing countries is something that is being attacked from both ends. Efforts like the WHO and IAPB’s VISION2020 initiative have established infrastructure and systems for the treatment of diseases that can lead to avoidable blindness, like cataracts or ocular infections. Those running these efforts also demonstrate a great sense of kinship with their fellow man.

Health, wealth and happiness are what we all want in our lives. It seems that a great number of ophthalmologists also go out of their way to share this good fortune with others. Long may it continue!

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About the Author
Richard Gallagher
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