Twentieth Anniversary celebration of the Rural and Community Eye Health Unit, LV Prasad Eye Institute

15 September 2018, Hyderabad, India

Hon’ble Shri Jagat Prakash Nadda ji, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India; Hon’ble Shri E S L Narasimhan, Governor of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana; Dr Gullapilli N Rao, Founder Chair of this esteemed Institute;Dr Bob Macmillan, President of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness; Distinguished partners and friends of prevention of blindness, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a privilege to be here as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the L V Prasad Eye Institute’s Gullapalli Pratibha Rao International Centre for the Advancement of Rural Eye Care.

I extend my warmest congratulations.

As I stand here, I recognize and celebrate the full significance of this great institution – the comprehensive care that it has provided to all – especially the economically disadvantaged and the geographically distant: I also recognize the dedication and commitment of Dr Rao, a visionary who left the United States with a dream of helping to prevent blindness in his country – a dream he could fulfil with the high quality of work he is known for, both here and across the world.

Indeed, for many years this Institute has made us proud as a WHO collaborating centre dedicated to a single, worthy and admirable pursuit: the prevention of blindness.

The Institute has done so in a Region where the loss of vision and blindness are problems disproportionate to global trends, and where the challenges we meet and the barriers we must overcome are deeply entrenched.

Throughout it all it has been a joy to work with you and to witness the Institute grow from strength-to-strength, from 1989 when it started as an eye bank to now, when it is performing 2000 corneal transplants.

Since GPR ICARE’s inception in 1998, it has changed the lives of communities through primary eye care centres, taking the LVPEI Eye Health Pyramid approach, linking and primary eye care centres serving clusters of villages through a network of secondary care centres at the district level linked to a city-based tertiary eye centre.

In noting GPR ICARE’s commitment, I also want to acknowledge the technical and strategic know-how it brings to every intervention undertaken; to each community it deals with and each patient it assists and treats.

Indeed, over the years GPR ICARE has developed high quality, self-sustaining eye care services for marginalized communities, not only in Andhra Pradesh, but in other parts of India and the developing world.

It has helped train frontline health workers to provide basic eye care services, strengthening health systems and the services they provide.

It has participated in policy development and advocacy, in keeping with its solutions-based approach and commitment to engaging with a range of actors from the grassroots up.

And it has also conducted critical research to better understand the burden of vision loss, and to ensure gaps are filled and services provided where they are needed most.

This robust, integrated and holistic focus has served GPR ICARE well.

Through a network of some 800 trained professionals, GPR ICARE has examined around 1.89 million people and performed 2.27 lakh sight-restoring surgeries.

It has screened 8.43 million people through door-to-door surveys, with 2.34 million children reached, and has implemented almost 60 community eye health initiatives.

The knowledge gained has led to many publications and 20 research grants.

More than that, it has trained a total of 682 public eye care professionals country-wide. Beyond its work at the community level, it has also helped build the capacity of 225 hospitals.

Arguably, the initiative’s success is testament to the power of Dr G N Rao and Mrs Pratibha Rao’s original vision, which emphasized the virtue of a comprehensive approach to universal eye care.

That comprehensive approach has long been reflected in the strategies and objectives of WHO’s own Global Action Plan for the Prevention of Avoidable Blindness and Visual Impairment.

Moreover, it is an approach that defines WHO’s forward trajectory, whether in realizing the Region’s own Flagship Priorities – first devised back in 2014 – to staying on track to meet the SDG targets, or realizing the ‘triple billion’ goals of the recently adopted Thirteenth General Programme of Work.

Indeed, it is an approach that has universal health coverage at its core, and which – necessarily – includes quality universal eye health that can be accessed by all people everywhere.

Believing in our joint vision and our ongoing and productive partnership, it brings me great pleasure to celebrate 20 years of GPR ICARE – a dynamic, innovative and above all successful initiative. To continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with both the LV Prasad Eye Institute and GPR ICARE. And to continue to work towards universal eye health as a critical component of universal health coverage.

Indeed, I look forward to many, many more years of collaboration with the Institute, and once again wish Dr Rao, Pratibha Rao and their teams the best as we celebrate twenty years of GPR ICARE and the dramatic contribution to health and wellbeing it has made, both here in the Region and beyond.

Thank you very much, I wish you many more years of success.