Padma Shri Award Winner Dr. R.V. Ramani Speaks about the Role of Technology in Eliminating Curable Blindness

Ritu Jha-


Dr. R.V. Ramani, managing trustee of Sankara Eye Foundation (SEF), one of the leading eye care service providers in India on being honored with the Padma Shri award [A Civilian Award bestowed by Govt.of.India]early this year says that these are moral boosters not only for the individuals but also for the organizations to which he or she belongs to.

“It encourages you to do more and also encourages your confidence. There are people who appreciate the good things in life. So that is something that makes you feel positive about it.”

Dr.Ramani was felicitated at the SEF USA annual banquet on Nov. 9 at Paradise Ballrooms in Fremont, California. Philanthropists, business and social leaders, and donors from the Indian-American community came together to celebrate the accomplishment of 1.96 million free eye surgeries through Sankara hospitals and over 80,000 free eye surgeries with their partner, as well as pledge support to fulfill the mission of eradicating curable blindness in India.

Dr. Ramani told indica with a smile on the sidelines of the conference, where people surrounded him congratulating him and taking a look at the prestigious Padma Shri medal he wore on his suit, “You feel you were able to disseminate some good…”

“It was a pleasant surprise; I wasn’t aware of it,” he said, on learning about the award.

The Sankara Eye Hospital was first established in 1977 to eliminate curable eye blindness in India, during his speech Dr. Ramani shared not just about his vision but about the upcoming hospitals in India as well as the use of technology, specifically artificial intelligence (AI) to ensure early diagnosis and prevention.

There are nine established super specialty SEF hospitals and three new SEF hospitals being built in Indore, Hyderabad, and Mumbai. Bihar Sankara Eye Hospital has partnered with Akhand Jyoti Hospital, based in Masti Chak, Bihar to help the underserved. The Sankara Eye Hospital in Indore is being inaugurated January 2020.

Dr. Ramani noted that Bihar has been slow with its establishment of SEF hospitals. He said the awareness is there but you need to create a sound foundation, that is why it took this much time. He believes to run an organization, one needs like-minded people. So together they aim and reach out to more people and be of service and disseminate role models so that more and more people will get on board.

On the usage of technology he said, “Every day we see thousands of patients so data mining is going to help us a lot in the long term. Whatever we see and learn we try to integrate into future services.”

It helps in both prevention and diagnosis. Preventative eye care for children and curative eye care for adults.

The annual banquet also held a panel conducted by Sridharan Krishnamurthy, president and board member of SEF USA where SEF India and its board members, share about why they joined Sankara and their work.

Bharath Balasubmaium, President Sankara Eye Hospital in Coimbatore, India told indica on how they are using Artificial Intelligence(AI) to take leverage of data generated through 10 hospitals said, “we’ve started bringing technology 15 years back where we’ve revamped our client serve mechanism to data-based capturing  mechanism. So, hospitals have been integrated and each hospital is connected and all the functional hospital generate data in real-time. And we monitor the progress of each location.”

Balasubmaium, who has been associated for the past two decades with Sankara said in 2009, they ensured all hospitals should be integrated and data was visible and started researching AI to predict disease.

When asked how using AI, how it’s helping, he said to try to understand the reasons for the diseases and try to understand there are any patterns that have come out of the information that is available in the hospital data.

“With the AI technology, which we have been developing for the past four years and have been trying to understand and come out the trends in diabetic retinopathy. We have patients with diabetes and so we are understanding the patterns and trends,” Balasubmaium said.

Explaining further he said that with cataracts and now with diabetes increasing, diabetic retinopathy is becoming prevalent.

“Lots of patients have a cataract, which is the leading cause of blindness,” he said.

Balasubmaium also added that it’s not just the patients coming to the hospitals which generates data but also the people on the ground surveying in the field using the Sankara Electronic Remote Vision Information System (SERVIS) an app.

“We are in the process of collecting the information and coming out with heat maps which have the job imaging in eye disease. Again, all this is real-time data collection

Balasubmaium says, with AI we are looking at what more can be done in preventing eye diseases.”

“The intention is to eliminate curable blindness,” said Balasubmaium.

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