for Sore Eyes
Eye Hospital on a Thursday morning is teeming with people.
All kinds of people -- babies on their mothers hips,
old women being led by their sons or daughters, young
men, teenagers, middle class, working class -- every
group seems to be represented. They come from all over
the country. Some of them are here for the first time;
others have been coming for a while. Most of them are
here to get back their sight or to clear their blurry
all seems a bit chaotic at first but a closer look reveals
that everything is going on schedule. New patients go
into ticket rooms where they can buy a ticket for only
Tk. 20 with which they can get all their eye exams and
preliminary treatment. The ticket is valid for a whole
month and covers as many visits as needed within that
time. There are separate ticket rooms for men and women.
With the ticket the patients go into the huge consulting
room where 14 doctors are sitting to give medical attention.
A serial number is given for each ticket and the patients
wait in the waiting area until their numbers are called.
Each doctor sees a batch of 10 patients at a time, so
a total of 140 patients are selected at a time following
which the remaining batches are seen. Those who require
special attention are referred to one of the many eye
specialists on the other side of the building. Thus
everyone present gets to see a doctor, the waiting period
is not long and there is no pushing and shoving to get
ahead of another patient. The process takes place so
smoothly that by 12 p.m. the crowd of 500 to 700 patients,
who come every day, is almost completely thinned out.
VIP room at the Islamia Eye Hospital. Rich patients
can also benefit from the hospital's modern, sophisticated
services and state-of-the-art facilities.
The hospital has a team
of 40 highly skilled doctors, 35 of them are surgeons
backed by dedicated nurses and paramedics to see to
it that patients are attended to promptly in a friendly,
caring environment. Patients are seen between 8 a.m.
to 2 p.m.
hospital's Fast Track Centre caters to patients who
can pay for the Tk. 200 ticket fee and benefit by cutting
down on the waiting period. Dr. M. A. Majid Khan, a
senior consultant who joined Islamia as early as 1979,
says that at this centre the services i.e. eye examination,
prescription, spectacles, are the same as the regular
outdoor patient services, only they do not have to wait.
the Islamia Eye Hospital no one is turned away.
perhaps the most remarkable feature of this 40 plus
year old institution is that no one is turned away.
No matter what the person's financial position, no matter
how complicated the disease is, the patient will be
attended to by extremely qualified doctors and will
be entitled to the best and most advanced treatment.
Sounds a bit too good to be true but the hospital has
so far lived up to its philosophy of providing the best
quality eye care to both the rich and the poor. Of course
a vast majority of the patients are in fact extremely
poor but the hospital's administrative advisor Zaida
Ispahani, insists that the services and equipment are
state of the art and as good as those provided by hospitals
abroad. “We strongly encourage the rich to come for
treatment because every kind of eye treatment is available
and there is no need for patients to go abroad for treatment.”
gets quite crowded at Islamia in the mornings but an
efficient system ensures that all patients are attended
This includes Cornea and anterior segment, Glaucoma,
Retina-vitreous, Orbit and eye plastic surgery, laser,
Cataract surgery including Phaco with Foldable/ Non
Foldable Intra Ocular Lens (IOL) surgery. The hospital
is also working with Shandhani for cornea replacement
although there is a huge dearth of cornea in the country,
says Zaida. Specialised paediatric services are also
provided for children with eye problems.
the services and care are exactly the same, well off
patients get better amenities as they have to pay more.
A bed at the general ward costs Tk 125 a day including
food while cabins for richer patients cost from Tk.
300 to Tk. 2,500 a day (also with food). There are 24
air-conditioned cabins with TV and nurse services. Some
of the cabins are being renovated to make them more
attractive to rich patients. Such efforts are geared
towards boosting the hospital's 'cross subsidy' programme
which channels funds earned from such services to sponsor
poor patients. “Sometimes patients come to us with no
money at all,” says Prof Khan M. A. Manzur, the hospital's
Director General, “but they require surgery very urgently
so we use the money from our 'poor fund'.“ To make sure
candidates of such free treatment are genuine the hospital's
counselling department carefully screens the patients
to determine just how needy they are so that undue advantage
is not taken.
While the running costs of the hospital
are managed through the revenue it generates through
ticket fees, funds are still needed in order to give
more free treatment and to improve the hospital's infrastructure
which is quite old and in need of renovation. Some funds
come from the trustees and personal donations from their
friends. But the support from the community, says Zaida
Ispahani, has been spectacular. Just recently Standard
Chartered Bank has funded a fully equipped highly sophisticated
operation theatre. In addition the Bank has financed
a 20 bed ward for children. Organisations such as Sight
Savers and Orbis have also extended their assistance
to the hospital. “Our margin of profit is very low so
we encourage donations in whatever form from individuals
and organisations because it will allow us to sponsor
more patients who are extremely poor,” says Zaida.
the Tk. 20 ticket a patient can consult with the eye
doctor as many times as required for a whole month.
-- Blindness that is Avoidable
the newly built Children's Ward donated by Standard
Chartered two and a half year old Likhon from Meherpur
sits on a bed with a patch on his left eye. He is recuperating
from a cataract operation that will enable him to see.
Both his eyes have been operated upon at the hospital
as when cataract develops in one eye, the 'good' eye
too, gets affected and has to be treated before it is
too late. Such details are a little hazy for Likhon's
mother but she expresses her gratefulness at the treatment
her child is getting especially since a messed up operation
at another hospital had almost destroyed his sight.
among small children is a common cause of blindness
in Bangladesh but surgery can give them their sight.
beds around Likhon's also have other little patients.
A fifteen month old baby tosses his head to and fro
as his mother tries to calm him. His strangely flat
head is a result of a badly handled delivery says his
young mother, one that probably also affected his sight.
He too has had a cataract removed and presumably he
will be able to see. Next to Likhon's bed is four year
old Chanchal wearing dark glasses and quietly eating
his khichuri. He too has had a cataract removed and
can now see clearly.
the Fast Track Centre patients who can pay for the Tk.
200 ticket fee can benefit by cutting down on the waiting
year under the new management, Islamia's mission is
targeted towards performing as many cataract operations
as possible to help reduce avoidable blindness. Eighty
to eighty-five percent of the one lakh ten thousand
people who go blind each year is caused by cataract,
says Prof Manzur. A thin film accumulates and covers
the surface of the pupil distorting vision and eventually
causing blindness. “The percentage of success of cataract
surgery is nearly 98%,” he says, adding that blindness
that is caused only by cataract is called 'avoidable
blindness' and can be treated with surgery. The surgery
is fairly simple but the consequences are as dramatic
as the difference between seeing and not seeing. Early
detection of any eye disease is crucial for successful
treatment and is true for cataracts as well, says Prof
Khan M.A. Manzur the hospital's Director General and
consultant says that there are several factors that
lead to cataract of the eye, a common disease that causes
are several factors that lead to people developing cataracts.
The possibility of being affected by cataract can start
as early as during the cell division of the foetus,
explains Prof Monzur. “If there is some abnormality
in the cell division when the baby is developing in
the stomach, it may lead to the baby getting cataract
of the eye.” The health of a pregnant woman is crucial
in this regard, he adds, as cataracts of very small
children can be caused by medical drugs taken while
pregnant, having high blood pressure or getting German
Measles or rubella during pregnancy, diabetes and so
on. Poor nutrition of the pregnant woman and foetal
distress during delivery are also factors. Cataracts
are also hereditary, says Prof Manzur and many people
get cataracts because their fathers, mothers or grandparents
had diabetes, which in turn causes cataract of the eye.
Congenital cataracts may manifest early in life. Other
reasons he lists include injury of the eye (a hit in
the eye with a golf ball for example), tumours, skin
disease like eczema, rheumatoid arthritis and taking
of some steroids.
Standard Chartered's 'Seeing is Believing' global campaign
which includes building the new Standard Chartered Operation
Theatre and Children's Ward could not have come at a
better time. “It has greatly helped to expand our capacity,
we now can do 60 cataract operations a day,” says Zaida.
“Moreover, the Bank has appointed a Project Director
who has trained for a month in India to help us run
this cataract project.” The Bank and some NGOs will
be collaborating with the hospitals so that the operations
can be done at cost price.
Standard Chartered's Children's Ward at the Islamia
Eye Hospital is a spacious area with colourful wall
paintings to cheer the child patients.
other aspects of Standard Chartered's initiative are
to raise funds to restore sight to 28,000 people and
Primary Eye Care training to nearly 7,000 health workers
in Bangladesh through Sight Savers International. “We
were looking for a cause that was simple and could have
a direct positive impact on people's lives,” says the
Bank's C.E.O. in Bangladesh, David Fletcher. “The Operation
Theatre and Children's Ward in Islamia Eye Hospital
is an outcome of that commitment. It will generate long-term
sustainable benefits instead of being a one-off charity.”
Fletcher adds that the Bank's staff members in Bangladesh
have worked one day free to raise funds that will be
used to restore sight to 150 children to make the Bank's
says that in the future Standard Chartered will continue
to support the Operations Theatre and Children's Ward.
This is in line with the Bank's commitment “to give
back to the communities where it does business and where
its employees live with their families”.
nurse checks for cataracts at the outdoor patient section.
line with this year's mission the hospital's outdoor
patient section places more importance on cataract patients.
Which is why the attending nurse at the waiting room
checks for cataracts when she is checking the patients
and groups them with other cataract patients who are
treated on a priority basis. “There is such a huge backlog
of cataract patients who need to be treated immediately,”
vision has become blurry but the hospital gives her
hope of clearer, brighter days.
cataracts have been given special emphasis this year,
other more complicated procedures are constantly being
done at Islamia. Diseases of the retina, for example,
are treated at the Retina Department. The operations
of the retina require sophisticated expertise and equipment.
Dr. Ansarul Huq, a senior consultant of the hospital
and working here since 1982, says that patients from
all over Bangladesh are referred to the Islamia Eye
Hospital for problems related to the retina. Tiny holes
or tears in the retina or retina detachment can lead
to blindness if not treated early, says Dr. Huq. Diabetes,
head injuries and cataract surgery are some of the causes.
brand new Standard Chartered Operation Theatre will
allow the hospital to carry out as many as 60 operations
founder of Islamia Eye Hospital M. A. Ispahani wanted
to build an institution that would provide the best
possible eye care for the entire community, regardless
of social distinctions. It started as a dispensary and
developed into an eye hospital in 1960. At the time
there were no specialist hospitals and all ailments
were treated at the general hospitals. The Islamia Eye
Hospital was a big undertaking from the private sector
-- it had around 250 beds, the same number as Dhaka
Medical College Hospital (DMCH). Now, after over 40
the serial number is called the attending doctor examines
the patient's eye and gives a prescription for spectacles
or medication if necessary or refers him to a specialist
at the hospital.
importance of such a hospital is even greater. The number
of patients is astronomically higher with a larger proportion
of senior citizens (due to longer life span) and children
-- both groups being vulnerable to eye disease due to
various factors. “It is in our national interest to
develop this hospital,” says Dr. Manzur. The new management,
says its advisor, is to restore the founder's dream
'to help restore sight' and make this hospital a modern
eye care provider 'where no one is turned away'. So
far they seem to be on the right track.