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Eye Hospital in India Restores Sight with Free Surgeries

Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from India on the Aravind system of eye hospitals and clinics that subsidizes sight-restoring surgery for impoverished patients and provides top-of-the-line care for patients who can pay.

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    Finally tonight: bringing sight to millions of people who suffer from eye disease.

    Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro returned to an eye hospital in India that he first visited in 1989.


    Aravind is the largest eye care center in the world. The surgical facilities are as modern, the error rate as low as any place in America.

    The big difference with Aravind is that its patients are among the world's poorest people, who rarely get treated for eye diseases. Globally, 45 million people have preventable or reversible blindness. Twelve million are in India alone, where the extreme sun and genetics are blamed.

    Many people lose their sight and livelihood by their early 50s. Aravind's business success and social mission have long made it a model in public health textbooks. Twenty years ago, this much younger reporter came to the ancient temple city of Madurai, where Aravind was founded by Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy. Everyone called him Dr. V.

    He retired from a government hospital in 1976 and set out to tackle what he called disabling cataract blindness.


    Nothing which disables a man like cataract and poor eyesight.


    Aravind itself was a very small operation when Dr. V. started it, with 11 bed and four doctors, three from his own family. The idea was simple. They would serve patients who could pay. The profits would afford free care to the many more people who couldn't afford even the bus fare.

    So, Aravind set out to find patients, mainly through screening camps in surrounding rural areas. Groups like the Lions Club provided buses to bring those needing surgery to the hospital, where they entered a brisk assembly line operating room.

    Dr. V.'s business role model was McDonald's, or American chain stores in general.

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