The News Agency of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness

Volunteers Relieve Eye Problems Among Barsana's Poor

By: on Jan. 23, 2008
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Volunteers conduct post-surgery eye test.

Barsana Eye Camp, the free annual cataract surgery run by Mumbai's Bhaktivedanta Hospital, serves the residents of Barsana, India, and the surrounding 120 villages, who due to extreme poverty and lack of medical facilities often lead a life of blindness caused by cataracts, which are easily treated.

Bhaktivedanta Hospital provides surgeons and support services to make the eye surgery in Barsana possible. In January, the 16th annual surgery will provide enhanced sight for thousands of people currently affected by cataracts.

Cataracts, a clouding of the clear lens in the eye, are one of the leading causes of vision impairment. While cataracts are more common among the elderly, they can develop in younger people as well. Some babies are even born with cataracts.

Although in the early stages cataracts may not cause any vision problems, the most common symptoms include blurred vision, sensitivity to glare, distorted or double vision in the affected eye and a feeling of looking through a veil or curtain.

Barsana is said to be one of the places where Srimati Radharani spent her childhood. About 20km from Govardhana, Barsana is associated with incidents from Radha and Krishna's pastimes.

The camp is staffed by qualified ophthalmologists from Mumbai, as well as doctors, nurses and volunteers from various fields who all take a break from their respective engagements to volunteer for more than 10 hours service a day.

In 2007 the camp was conducted at Radha-Madhav ashram in Barsana. A team of 17 ophthalmic surgeons from Mumbai attended from the 1st to the 16th of February, as did 40 doctors and 270 volunteers. During the first few days, 2,536 out-patients were examined and 611 patients then underwent surgery. Thirty-one patients were selected to be taken to Mumbai for more specialized surgery.

Concurrently, a team of three dentists and 25 volunteers from Bhaktivedanta Hospital performed scaling, fillings and extractions for up to 900 residents of the area.

Doctors and volunteers maintained their efforts despite unforeseen events such as heavy rain, disrupted power supplies and severe cold, along with a lack of warm water for bathing and cooking. The Chief Medical Officer of Mathura district, Dr. Saxena, and other officials visited the camp to express their appreciation. Various local media covered the camp.

The villagers in Barsana district live simple lives; illiteracy is high and poverty prevails. There is only irregular public transport and access roads are poor. Medical facilities are scant, with more than 30,000 people having no access to hospital. Local incomes are so low that many are deprived of even the most basic care. Unable to afford medical help, many villagers are partially or totally blind.

Organised by Bhaktivedanta Hospital every year since 1992, the camp is free for all the villagers and each year thousands arrive seeking help. Waiting for up to three days to be seen, they come from all over and by all means of transport in hope of having their vision restored.

Dr Vivekanand Shanbag, the chief co-ordinator of the camps, says when he first visited the area in the late 1980s there was a medical center with a pharmacy but no doctor. "A very miserable situation," he said. "We thought, why not have an eye camp here."

At the camp many surgeons spend 12 hours a day examining and operating on patients. One of the volunteers, Dr Abhijeet Desai, was impressed. "From the day I came things were so organized that I felt like actually working out here," he said.

Another volunteer, Dr Nikhil Gokhale, said, "We are using state-of-the-art equipment; it is the same as I use in my own clinic. The protocols we are following here are of the highest standard. I would not mind operating on my own parents here."

Volunteer Dr Jugal Shah said, "The unique thing about Barsana Eye Camp is the level of devotion, the level of service. Everybody takes such special care of people."

Generally patients stay for three days and all amenities are provided for the patient and their family. At the end of the stay, each patient leaves with 40 days worth of medicine as well as dark glasses to assist their recovery. Patients needing further surgery are sent free of charge to Mumbai.

Sukhavaha dasi, a volunteer at last year's camp, said, "The part that really touched me was the love and dedication of the volunteers. To see the service attitude and the teamwork of the devotees, and to experience the simplicity of Barsana, reminded me of the early days of New Vrindaban."

For more information visit the web site at www.barsanaeyecamp.com and watch the video. At the web site you can make a donation which will be put to use at the Barsana Eye Camp. You can use the contact form and offer any other services that may be of help.

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