42 yrs, 5.5 million patients: Dr RV Ramani of Shankara Eye Hospital recalls journey

Recipient of the Padma Shri Award, Dr RV Ramani of of Shankara Eye Foundation speaks to TNM about his journey so far.
42 yrs, 5.5 million patients: Dr RV Ramani of Shankara Eye Hospital recalls journey
42 yrs, 5.5 million patients: Dr RV Ramani of Shankara Eye Hospital recalls journey
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Dr Ramanathan V Ramani, founder and managing trustee of Shankara Eye Foundation, a charitable eye hospital that has its roots in Coimbatore, was honoured with the Padma Shri by the Indian government recently.

The 71-year-old pioneer co-founded the institution on 21 May 1977, as a primary healthcare centre as part of the Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Medical Trust, along with his wife and co-practitioner Dr Radha Ramani. The institute then blossomed into a full-fledged eye care hospital in 1985 on 5.5 acres of gifted land.

Over 40 years later, the institution has remained steadfast in its primary intent of providing quality eye care for the economically weaker sections of the society. Today, Shankara Eye Foundation has tested over 5.5 million patients and performed surgery on over 1.8 million of them across the country.

Talking about his initial days, Dr RV Ramani says, “It is a 41-year-old track record. We chose community eye care as our thrust area, making readily available high quality, cost-effective eye care. We can say, on an average, over 500 free surgeries are performed every day across the country.”

Yet it is Shankara’s model of 80:20 that has made sure the institution has been able to sustain itself for so long. “To perpetuate, to continue doing what we do, we follow a model that is globally unique to us. Through our 80:20, the rich and affordable sections of society pay for their treatment while 80 percent of our patients come from economically weaker sections of the society. It is a sustainable model which can be replicated. I’d call it quality with frugality,” he explains.

Shankara also has an interesting community initiative that empowers rural young women from different villages across the country. Through their women's empowerment programme, close to one thousand young women from villages in Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Punjab have been trained in vision care.

The initiative first began 15 years ago in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, and has currently spread to villages in Indore, Kanpur and Maharashtra from where the present batch of students are being trained.

Discussing this programme, Dr Ramani says, “When you educate a girl, when you give her a job oriented education, you are taking care of the whole family. Now both men and women work and especially in the field of eye care where it involves delicate work with patients, women are better preferred. They are able to handle a delicate organ like the eye much better. These young women are given an enormous opportunity to serve humanity irrespective of economic status, caste and religion,” he says.

Dr Ramani also adds that the driving force behind this programme is his wife, Dr Radha. “Radha takes up training these young women very passionately. She took up training these girls from different states and began moulding them as vision care technicians. I would say she grooms these young students, inculcating the Shankara work culture in them,” says Dr Ramani.

His wife, he says, has been an important reason for Shankara’s success. “The common saying is that behind every successful man, there is a woman, but I would like to differ and say that the woman should not be behind nor in front but always beside a man. That is what Radha did for me. She is very passionate in treating the less privileged,” he asserts.

Dr RV Ramani, who was born in Coimbatore, was inspired by his father Dr A Ramanathan to take up the medical profession. Recalling his early days, he speaks fondly of his father - of how his service to the community served as his inspiration. Yet, he credits the Kanchi seer Shankaracharya as the spark that inspired him and his wife to take up charitable endeavours.

“Both of us had the thought of doing something beyond our own practice for the sake of the society. This was when we got the message from Kanchi Shankaracharya, asking us to spare a little bit of our time for the rest of the world,” he explains.

Having founded one of the earliest charitable eye care institutions in the country, Dr RV Ramani says that the award feels more like a scale to measure one’s own value. “I am happy and satisfied in having received this award. Awards are not only morale boosters for an individual but beyond that, it is also a kind of a scale by which one’s service and value are measured. It is something like the general public, citizens of India, telling you that you are going in the right direction.”

He also adds, “Beyond happiness, it also gives us energy and enthusiasm to do more. It also impacts other younger people to contribute a lot more. It inspires many others to do good to the country.”

Remarking that the medical profession is a noble one, Dr RV Ramani opines that it gives doctors ample opportunity to help people in large numbers. “A young doctor should learn to look beyond their own family and friends. Every doctor individually or collectively should spend 10% of his/her professional time on a charitable endeavour,” he concludes.

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