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Thursday, February 25, 2021

For the Record: Combat Blindness International

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For the Record: Combat Blindness International
For the Record: Combat Blindness International

Combat Blindness International founder and chairman Doctor Suresh Chandra and the CBI chairman and director, Reena Chandra Rajpal talk about their latest initiative.


>>> we now present for the record with neil heinen.

>>> celebrating 35 years of eliminating preventable blindness is next on for the record.

Thank you for joining us, i'm neil heinen.

Suresh chandra was created in 1974 by the university of wisconsin professor doctor suresh chandra.

They have literally changed the lives of thousands of people on continents, and now it is headed by his daughter reena chandra rajpal to include vision care ranging of upwards from 3500 screenings of pre-k to 4k children, and now they are making botswana blindness free.

Combat blindness international is one of the great gifts to their celebration, we want to welcome to for the record combat blindness international founder and chairman doctor suresh chandra and the cbi chairman and director, reena chandra rajpal.

>> thank you.

>> thank you very much.

>> we have done this show before.

But i just think it is always helpful, doctor chandra, to remind people of how this began, the idea of combat blindness international.

>> man: well, i came to madison in 1974 after i specialize in retinal surgery, and it took me several years to establish myself and i felt the urge to give back.

I traveled india of course, but also, africa, indonesia, thailand, and other countries, just to teach them this high-tech surgery.

And, it happened that i was at a small charity hospital, and i was dealing with a patient who was in his 40s and lost one eye to diabetes completely.

The other i had a lot of burned and scar tissue in the eye.

So, in the morning as i was going towards my operating room, i prepped the patient.

There were about 30 to 50 people sitting in the corridor, and i asked the local doctor who was assisting me, what is this?

And he said that they were all waiting for the cataract surgery.

I did not pay attention but when i finish my surgery in 3 a half hours, i passed through the same court order, and there was nobody there.

And i said, what happened to them?

And he said that they have all had cataract surgery and are back in the ward.

That was an "aha" moment for me, because a cataract is half of the world's blindness.

And it takes very little, just 20 minutes, and the next morning, patients can see.

So that was just an "aha" moment for me, that i must do something.

And that is how it started.

>> now and terms of the scope of this, even at 40 that is just a tiny number?

>> exactly.

>> as compared to the number of people?

>> exactly.

>> and there was just no way to address that to scale?

>> and the think that really struck me is 3 a half hours, i did one case.

That patient might not see too much, but here, 40 patients at the same time can see almost 35 years you have devoted your work to cataract surgery?

Cataracts primarily?

>> primarily.

>> to countries around the world?


How does cbi do their work?

>> well in the beginning what we did is we went with a team of doctors and medical personnel, we did surgery, then we came back.

So for a couple of years we did that.

But that did not satisfy me.

Started partnerships with other programs and people who are like-minded and genuine, doing this same kind of work.

So, that really did change completely.

Now, we could do the surgery all year long.

>> i hope this is not jumping too far ahead, reena, but cbi has grown to be such a comprehensive program, talk a little bit about how it grew and developed over the years.

>> well we were primarily in four areas, providing free cataract surgery across the country, pediatric eye care, so screaming children and schools for glasses and other eye conditions, and that if we discovered that they needed the surgery as well as glasses we also had a very special program called certified ophthalmic paramedical technician program which basically it just takes young women from a village in india and brings them to deli and trains them to be ophthalmic nurses and what this really is is a workforce generation, and it empowers these women to do these professional skills with economic freedom.

>> changing lives and a whole different but complementary fashion?

>> exactly.

Then the fourth area which is a smaller area that we periodically support surgery centers in india and the rural areas where they have no i healthcare.

>> now am i right that you have actually built facilities?

>> as my father said, we work with indigenous hospitals and health systems to have a partner on the ground in the various countries that allows the work to go on year-round.

So we did partner with one of our local partners to build a surgical center, and cbi supported the construction and salary of the staff for one back, i hope we can spend a little bit of time explaining how this impacts the people who you treat in these countries.

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This exciting offer from the wisconsin lottery >>> a little later, we will give you information on how you can attend the combat blindness international banquet that generally happens with world site day.

My guest are chairman and founder doctor suresh chandra and reena chandra rajpal is the president and executive director of cbi.

And it is hard.

We saw some pictures of the patients that you have had, but it is hard to describe the impact that this has so i hope that may be you can help us understand what this means to the hundreds of thousands of people who have done this is it's still about $25 for a really was one of the most compelling reasons for me to start.

Because living in this country, $25 doesn't have much meaning.

You can spend $25 at the lunchtime.

The impact of this is really what brings me over and over again to these countries, that you do the surgery and it does take about 20 minutes, a very simple operation.

And then, when you open the bandage the next morning, you can smile and he can greet and he can see.

Many times these people have not seen their grandchildren, so they can see their grandchildren.

They can go back to their work, which they were not doing because of the blindness.

So this really does impact a life and changes their life, and they can be useful members of the family as well as the community, >> so they would have lived their entire lives unable to work and see?

>> exactly.

>> they just would not have had this opportunity.

>> because, the cataract has gone on for so many years.

They have lost all of their vision.

So this really does make a great impact when you take the cataract out.

And you see them the next morning.

>> yeah.

>> so i think that that really is the most impactful surgery, and cost effective surgery of any interventions in the healthcare system.

>> woman: and i think also what makes us so impactful is here in the united states we have services for people who have things like blindness but in low income countries there are very little if any of those services.

So if somebody is behind, the impact that it has on them as a person, they cannot work or go to school.

They might become a burden on their family because a lot of times in low income countries, every member of the family is contributing financially to the family.

So you are giving that person an opportunity to contribute again and provide for their families.

>> and the numbers are just how many you have used but millions of screenings that you have done with hundreds of thousands of people for whom you have restored site.

But just the significance of a country like botswana with a backlog of 6000 cataracts and you have illuminated the whole backlog, that seems like a pretty important milestone for what cbi can accomplish.

>> yes, this actually just came to us with some partners to work in botswana, and we accepted the challenge and partnered with three other organizations and had six campaigns, two every year, and in three years we were able to there are no backlog of cataracts in botswana.

The next phase will be capacity building, so that we have trained the doctors and nurses and paramedics there, that they can continue the ongoing incidents of cataracts.

Because when you get older, you will have cataracts.

That is where we are focusing now.

Now that we have taken care of the backlog.

>> yeah.

>> so this really is a remarkable thing for the whole country of botswana.

>> and a little later when we talk about the event and how cbi is funded, i want to talk about the next steps but it is fascinating with the work that you are doing even locally with the madison school kids and the right to cite i service for the under insured in dane county.

Talk a little bit about the local work.

>> sure.

So we have partnered with the madison metropolitan school district with school nurses to screen all children in the madison school district in 4k and 5k for primarily retracted of errors, to see if they need glasses but also did have any have a referral service through the school that they are referred to local health systems, to receive their treatments, and we pay for all of their glasses.

So if they do need glasses, we take care of that.

>> have you discovered a fair number of kids who had serious problems?

>> yes.

And the reason why school screening is so important is 80 percent of learning is visual.

So a child needs to be able to see to do anything from math to science to art.

On so we just feel that that this program is so important.

We love that we have volunteer ophthalmic nurses who come and they help us to this program lovely school district with for the partnership.

>> and you work with >> yes, we work with the department of science is to do what we call the right to cite clinic with several clinics every other month.

All of the patients are referred to the clinic through the community health care that are seen, volunteers, physicians and residents, they all volunteer in the clinic.

And for the weekend of world site day, we do a much larger clinic where we see three times as many patients.

It all goes to support the patients were under insured in dane county.

>> and when we come back, we ?

>>> the 35th anniversary celebration of combat blindness international founded here in madison, wisconsin, by doctor suresh chandra.

He is here with me with reena chandra rajpal who is the executive director of combat blindness international.

Reena, talk about the funding, how is it put together for cbi?

>> it is a nonprofit.

It is primarily individuals.

We have had a lot of long term voters who have followed and been a part of our work.

So it is a combination of individuals.

Then we write grants to operations and foundations, so it is pretty much about 50-50 and terms of our funding.

>> how are you doing?

>> we are doing well!

[laughter] >> like most nonprofits every year you start with a clean slate?

>> absolutely.

And when you talk about this work and how important it is and what an impact you can make for so little, people respond.

It is kind of when my dad talked about his moment, people have their own moment.

They think, for a couple of days as starbucks, i could give somebody their vision by.

And it has become my life passion.

Though i have been involved for a very long time.

So yes, this speaks to people.

>> there is an interesting balance, doctor chandra, between the impact you could have for so little money, and what would be possible if you had more?

>> exactly.

I think this year's program, the theme is, what impact cbi had and the last 35 years so we are inviting our partners who have worked with us in india, cambodia, botswana, the people who have supported us initially to give us a sense from their point of view how the support of combat blindness has impacted their programs and institutions.

>> what is next?

>> what is next?

Oh, there is a lot next.

Are certified ophthalmic paramedical program for these young women, we see a big chance to expand it.

What we find is because they come from very small and rural communities the family does not want them to go to the big city of new delhi.

It is frightening and they are unsure for their safety.

So we are looking to expand it to create satellite and rule sites for their education, so that is one thing.

And the other thing, we would like to find a way to take this program which we think is a very important program and terms of building mid-level capacity workforce, in the fight against alleviable -- >> is that a word?

[laughter] >> excuse me, alleviating preventable blindness.

So, we really do think that creating a replicable model will be imported.

>> yeah.

>> and we are supporting the areas where we have not had a lot of impact as we have gone to several countries in africa where of course, very heavily in india but we are looking towards south america to see, are there opportunities there?

People who need our services?

Or any of the services that we do provide?

>> doctor chandra, do you get some people at the annual world site day even into are just curious and interested in the work?

>> yes.

>> that is kind of who we want to invite, right?

>> yes.

I think that a lot of people want to know, how can we help?

So we are giving them a direction that this is one way that you could help not only the community here, but also, the world.

Which is, every day, shrinking.

I tell them there was a time when making a phone call to india was a big deal but now for two since you can get to talk to india.

Right away.

So, i do think that we have a responsibility that we can help people here.

>> and with the volunteers from wisconsin and throughout the state >> exactly.

>> last year we took 17 people with us to india and >> not all ophthalmologist?

>> not all ophthalmologist.

But they were the people who wanted to know what you are doing?

And how can we help?

And we showed them.

We really and literally have helped these people with the programs. and again, it is something which i think is good for our soul as well.

A big number with an incredible impact., that is the best place to go to get tickets for the event?

>> yes.

>> thank you so much ?

Let's go!


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>>> my thanks to doctor suresh chandra and to reena chandra rajpal for joining us.

We will see you next week on for the


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