"It has never been about the money but about the people. As a doctor, it is my duty to use my skills to the best and help them. And there comes a day when we work towards something that simply makes us happy. I was lucky to have found that out rather early."
Cutting through the cacophony of hawkers and vehicles stuck in traffic at Jorhat’s Gar-Ali market, a few steps lead to the entrance of a small clinic.
Its humble appearance can be deceiving, but the long queue of eager patients explain why this place has been a ray of hope for the people of Assam, for the past seven years.
This establishment is a vision centre set up by Dr Parveez Ubed, under ERC Eye Care.
Since 2011, the centre has been on a mission to provide inclusive, affordable and accessible eye care to all. People across all ages, genders and economic backgrounds have been coming to its doors in pursuit of a clearer vision.
Himadri Bora, a weaver from rural Assam is one of the many beneficiaries of the center. She belongs to a community which often suffers from near sight fails due to the nature of the work. Owing to her blurred vision she might have lost her livelihood at the age of 40, but a simple near vision glass gave her eyes a new lease of life.
While ERC supports women like her with their medical expertise, you can extend your support to women weavers by purchasing traditional handloom weaves on the Better India Shop here.
“Assam is lagging when it comes to eye care services, and a bulk of cataract patients are being denied the gift of sight because of a lack of resources or affordability. I wanted to bridge that gap and being a doctor dedicating my life for such a cause was all I could think of,” says Dr Parveez, an ophthalmologist.
Back in 2007, after completing his graduation, he began to work in the civil hospital in Jorhat. It was during this time that he encountered a large number of cataract patients coming to the hospital every week.
“Among those patients, there were some with very low vision who had never opted for any corrective measures. This was due to the lack of proper facilities in general hospitals to conduct cataract surgeries. And, those that did it were really expensive, and so most people from lower-income groups could never even imagine coming out of their darkness,” he adds.
Although he wanted to help, he didn’t know how to.
With zero experience in running social enterprises, he decided to take the plunge, and after almost four years, he was finally able to set up ERC. Soon in 2013, the received a sizable amount of investments, that allowed ERC to set up the vision centres in Assam-Jorhat, Borholla and Nakachari.
Today Parveez and his 150-member team have four hubs, four mobile vans and two vision centres all across Assam, that has helped more than 2 lakh patients so far.
“A total of 28,7000 people have benefitted from our work. Till date, we have conducted over 10,000 operations and have provided 88,000 eyeglasses to the patients who needed it, informed Parveez, who charges a fee of just Rs 50 for consultation.
Affordability is yet another factor that sets their clinic apart from the rest and attracts scores of people daily. One can buy a pair of glasses at the clinic for Rs 250 onwards, and the cost of surgeries starts from Rs 1000 only.
“The cost of surgery, depending on its nature, can range from Rs 1000 to Rs 20,000, which is inclusive of travel, food and accommodation of the patients. This is crucial as many of the patients come from remote areas of the state,” he adds.
The ERC works on a hub and spoke model, whereby the cities or district headquarters have a hub hospital that has all the surgical facilities. Each of these hubs is connected to four to five spoke or satellite centres which are run by optometrists with the assistance of ophthalmologists.
These spokes provide basic eye care in the neighbouring rural areas.
To extend eye care facilities to the remotest parts of the state, ERC also has a group of vision assistance who go from door-to-door, screening people, and building awareness. Further, the mobile unit also travels all across the state conducting 15 to 20 free eye care camps in every district a month.
“In the beginning, it was a challenge to sustain the large number of satellite vision centres. We had eight at the time, so we decided to cut it down to two and concentrate on strengthening our hubs. However, now with the vision centres becoming self-sustainable with time, we are planning to expand further and build more. With time, we will fully embrace the hub and spoke model,” he adds.
Thanks to their whopping success, they hope to replicate the same to help people in other parts of the state and beyond.
“It has never been about the money but about the people. They deserve to see, and as a doctor, it is my duty to use my skills to the best and help them. There comes a day when we work towards something that makes us happy. I was lucky to have found that out rather early,” he concludes.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)