The Kalinga Eye Hospital and Research Center

India is home to the largest number of blind people in the world. In India, those who are blind often face a lot of stigma, are considered a burden to their family, are usually not able to contribute productively to their local communities, and have a decreased quality of life. A blind person has difficulty working, which leaves a stagnant pair of hands on an already struggling Indian economy. Furthermore, a blind person may often feel alone, which can result in psychological problems such as depression and anxiety. However, 80% of visual impairment is avoidable and curable. Many of these people need not be blind forever.

On the coast of India lies the state of Orissa, one of the poorest states in all of India. Eye care is an area of health that is extremely underrepresented in Orissa. With an agricultural economy, 85% of the Oriya population lives in rural areas. Village communities are spread out across very large distances, which is a great limitation to healthcre delivery.  The inability to pay for healthcare is a second crucial barrier to adequate healthcare in Orissa. To eliminate these barriers and improve eye care for the future in Orissa, the Kalinga Eye Hospital and Research Center was established.
The National Youth Service Action and Social Development Research Institute (NYSASDRI) sponsored the creation of the Kalinga Eye Hospital and Research Center (KEHRC) on October 20, 2002. The hospital in located in the central region of Orissa, called Dhenkanal. With its fight against poverty in Orissa being hindered by the high amounts of blindness throughout the state, NYSASDRI felt that eye care must be added to its missions, and the KEHRC was born. The hospital has two sections: the Operation Theater and the OPD. The OPD offers services ranging from Refractometry, Keratometry, and the fitting of contact lenses. Also, the hospital is the "first eye hospital with a Pediatric Ophthalmology unit," which is a source of great pride for Sunil Kumar Mishra, the Hospital Manager. The hospital trains local Oriya men and women to be doctors and paramedics in the hospital. This in turn, provides for the local economy and gives community members a quality education.

The current mission statement of Kalinga Eye Hospital embodies four goals:

  1. To be a center of excellence in eye care research, training, prevention, and cure.
  2. To reduce avoidable blindness by providing continual quality services to those in need.
  3. To offer complementary, affordable, total eye care services under one roof that are accessible to all communities.
  4. To promote community awareness and education on eye care.

As Mr. Sarangadhar Samal, director of NYSASDRI, says, the highest aim of the KEHRC is to create a balance between “low cost and high quality” of eye care. Low cost means that eye care should be available for all, regardless of the cost. In order to offer services to those who cannot afford it, the hospital must first receive money from organizations like Unite for Sight, and second, attract paying patients to the hospital to receive treatment. Quality of care is at the other side of the spectrum. Patient satisfaction is critical. The best practices, techniques and technology for healthcare are used by the KEHRC in order to have successful surgeries. The idea that eye care should be sustainable after the patients leave the clinic is also extremely important. Under the wing of NYSASDRI, the KEHRC embodies the principle of teaching one how to manage their quality of life—thus, instructing patients how to prevent problems with their eyes and care for them post-surgery.

To reach its goals of providing eye care for rural villages around Orissa, the KEHRC conducts “outreach camps” regularly. In these outreaches, paramedics, doctors, and volunteers working with the KEHRC travel by the hospital’s bus out to rural villages to conduct eye exams. In the villages, they provide exams and diagnosis by the local eye doctors, distribute eye glasses, educate people on caring for their eyes, and identify people with cataracts. Those with operable cataracts are then taken back to the hospital, prepped for surgery that same evening, and then are given surgery the next day. Furthermore, post-operative care is offered, as well as detailed instruction on how to care for one’s eyes when the person returns home. Mr. Sarangadhar Samal has said that “90% of the patients undergoing surgery at the KEHRC come from these outreach camps.”

Much of the support that the KEHRC needs and the innovation for new ideas comes from volunteers who work at the hospital. Every month, the KEHRC hosts 3-4 international volunteers, like those from Unite for Sight (UFS). Unite for Sight volunteers (Global Impact Fellows) are especially significant at the hospital in that they are entrepreneurial volunteers—they develop their own projects and programs in tandem with the hospital’s activities. Some projects that have been undertaken by UFS Global Impact Fellows at the KEHRC include:

  1. Quantitative and Qualitative research studies: for example, how effective is careful instruction about administering postoperative cataract eye drops in correlation to patients being able to administer their own eye drops? This study is modeled on a similar study done in the U.S.
  2. Marketing projects: creating posters, billboards, etc.
  3. Writing grant proposals: Volunteers frequently write grant proposals to expand KEHRC's services. The KEHRC is currently interested in extending its ability to treat glaucoma, but lacks the funding and technology to do so.

In addition to these projects, Unite For Sight Global Impact Fellows have the opportunity at the KEHRC to travel to outreach camps, fundraise, watch surgeries, and help with clinical services. Sarangdhar Samal says that there is so much to do here if you are “creative."

This profile was written by Alexandra Woodcock, Unite For Sight Global Impact Fellow