While at Aravind Madurai, a good amount of my time has gone into writing assignments. Thought I’d share a bit of what I’ve scrawled across the universe.
Jan 10, 2005- Everyday Hereos Column
A Long Time Friend Retunrs
He was here in the younger days of Aravind, back in the early 80s when there were no computers, no LAICO building, “nothing but the spirit,” as he put it, and he’s now in his sixth visit to India finding new ways to use his wide-ranging talents to help Aravind. A quiet man with a keen eye, Mike Myers notices the beauty of things that you probably overlook, and oversees things that you probably cannot miss. You may have seen him near the computer section of LAICO, or snapping photographs around Madurai, or teaching an illiterate boy how to read and add, or you may not have seen him at all, yet his unassuming gentle presence has been brightening life in and around Aravind for the last two decades.
Mike first heard of Aravind in 1980 while working for a company called Network Technologies International (NETI) headed by Seva Foundation founding member Larry Brilliant. The company worked on computer conferencing solutions for business, and Mike was one of top experts in the field. So when Larry approached and said that Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai wanted a computer conference system, Mike boarded a plane and headed for India via England with computer equipment in his bags. Unfortunately, European customs officials thought that the equipment looked like a bomb and confiscated his bags before he even touched down in Bombay. Frustrated, disoriented, and unable to communicate with the officials, he decided to leave everything in Mr. Thuslsiraj’s hands.
“Thulsi and Chitra were great. They took great care of me. They took great care of everything” said Myers. Thus began a lifelong friendship with Aravind that grows with each day.
Mike is currently volunteering his time to develop e-commerce shopping for Aurolab products, though he has worked on training videos and photography projects in addition to developing the seemingly doomed computer conferencing system. When I asked him what he enjoys working on most, he said, “Whatever makes Thulsi smile.”
Despite running a small magazine in the United States, Mike plans to spend increasing amounts of time at Aravind because of “Dr. V’s attitude of giving” that has touched him so deeply. No stranger to giving of himself, Mike often gives his pictures as gifts to the people he has photographed on the street. Many have never owned a picture of themselves and feel like “they just won the lottery,” beaming with smiles that he loves playing a part in creating.
Though he is back now, he was absent for over a decade between 1990 and 2003. After a bout with walking pneumonia, he began thinking about his own mortality and started looking for what he could do that mattered most.
“Everything else I’ve done will be forgotten. Things I’ve done here get built upon. Its great to be a small part of what’s happening at Aravind,” said Myers.
We could not agree more.
Jan 10, 2005 – Footprints Column
Making the Connection
“We’re from Aravind Eye Hospital. Can we go on your roof?” That’s what the residents of Theni and Ambasam heard as a small team of graduate students from the University of California at Berkeley (UCB), aided by Ashok and Saravan, went on a unique mission that took them to the tops of water towers, chicken sheds, public high schools, and rooftops of some government officials’ homes. The team is part of project called Technology and Infrastructure for Emerging Regions, or TIER, that focuses on developing hardware and software explicitly designed for the economic, political, and physical realities of the developing world. Specifically, this team was working on getting a high-bandwidth wireless computer network link set up between the Aravind Eye Hospital in Theni and the Aravind Clinic in Ambasam with the aim of making telemedicine more feasible.
At present, Aravind maintains a low-bandwidth radio frequency link between Theni and Ambasam that is used for basic computer communications. The greater bandwidth of the proposed system would make it possible for a patient in Ambasam to have their eyes checked by a doctor in Theni, and eventually, by a doctor anywhere. Essentially, a patient could come into the clinic, have images of their eyes wirelessly transmitted over the high-bandwidth link to Theni, where a doctor could make a diagnosis about whether the patient needed to visit the hospital or could be treated on site, saving both the doctor and patient valuable time and transportation expense. The greater range also makes it possible to set up ophthalmic information kiosks at other non-hospital sites that could do automated diagnosis or live remote consultations, in addition to a number of other non-medical services.
In the United States, high-bandwidth wireless computer networks are increasingly common. The problem with using the same technology in India is that the devices usually have a range of about 100 meters, and require a stable power supply and relatively high power consumption that make them expensive and unreliable for this market. Recognizing these problems, Sonesh Surana and Rabin Patra of UCB began working on a team that developed a modified technology with a much greater range that required less power and could function normally even after power resumed from an outage. Lead by UCB Professor Eric Brewer, the larger TIER project is supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation, Hewlett Packard, Intel, United Nations Development Program, IIT Delhi, the Markle Foundation and Grameen Bank. Also collaborating in the effort is the MS Swaminathan Foundation which has already established wireless communication between a number of villages near Pondicherry that will also be connected to the Aravind Eye Hospital in Pondicherry.
After four days of climbing on top of every recognizable and visible high point in the region around Theni and Ambasam with laptop computers, bionoculars, antennas, power cords, global positioning system (GPS) units, and a telescope, the team was finally able to achieve computer communication on January 6th between a relay point in Theni and Ambasam at a range of about 8km. Sonesh and Rabin returned to Theni on the 7th and after two days mixing cement, welding poles, and mounting antennas, they were able to achieve communication speeds of 4 megabits per seconds between Aravind Eye Hospital and Ambasam, creating a link 10-12 times faster than the satellite link between Theni and Madurai. “The coolest thing was that so many people pitched in to help just when we needed them,” said Sonesh as he marveled at the cooperative spirit that came through from so many unnamed helpers at Aravind.
Jan 17, 2005 – Footprints Column
Sharpening the Edge
Note- names of Aurolab employees have been kept private to prevent headhunters from nabbing them.
“That which ceases to grow, begins to die” goes the old saying. The Aravind Eye Care System has enjoyed phenomenal growth over the last decade through the inspired efforts of many people, and Project Impact’s Joel Segre is working to assure the continual growth of a key part of the Aravind equation: Aurolab.
While most know that Aurolab was established in 1992 in response to the unavailability of low-cost intraocular lenses (IOLs), many may not know the key role that Project Impact played in making Aurolab possible. In the early 90s when Dr. V. recognized the need to manufacture high-quality IOLs inside India in order to continue the fight against needless blindness, most experts dismissed the possibility that an Indian company could manufacture such a sophisticated product. Enter David Green, founder of Project Impact, who was determined to try. David helped raise funds, cultivated technology partners, and created a sustainable business plan that allowed a technology transfer to take place whereby the newly-established Aurolab could manufacture an IOL that did not infringe on existing patents. The availability of these low-cost lenses dramatically increased quality and volume of cataract surgeries that could be performed in India, and the rest of the developing world.
Nearly a decade and a half later, a new project is underway to help Aurolab keep its edge. Still under the leadership of David Green, Project Impact has sent Joel Segre on a two-year long mission to develop a method of manufacturing a foldable hydrophobic acrylic IOL(FHAIOL). Since these lenses can return to their original shape after folding, cataract patients require a much smaller incision to receive this IOL, decreasing both surgical recovery time as well as the possibility of complications.
“I want my work to help the poorest of the poor,” said Joel, making it easy to understand what drew him to Dr. V. and Aravind. A mechanical engineering graduate from Stanford University in the United States, Joel approached David Green immediately after finishing his studies to learn how he could help Project Impact’s work. Coinciding with Aurolab’s desire to develop a FHAIOL, Joel’s timing and expertise could not have been better suited to the task.
After developing the process and purchasing the equipment needed to manufacture the FHAIOL, Joel is in the final stages of Project Impact’s latest technology transfer. Aided by Aurolab’s own Hansel and Regrettal, Joel is working on scaling and refining the manufacturing process to produce high yields in bigger batches of lenses. Hansel and Regrettal will be the resident-expert engineers in charge of the process once Joel has completed his work.
“When I first met David, I told him, ‘I am working for you. You don’t have to pay me unless I am useful and do something that helps,’” said Joel. With that kind of selfless spirit, so similar to Dr. V.’s attitude and the very bedrock of Aravind culture, Joel’s sharp mind is one of many helping Aravind keep its edge.