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Reaching the Unreached

The Arunodaya Story

During PIE magazine’s whirlwind ophthalmological adventures in India, the team was fortunate to meet Dr. Arun Sethi of the Arunodaya Charitable Trust (ACT) and the Arunodaya Deseret Eye Hospital (ADEH). Through these enterprises, Dr. Sethi and his wife Dr. Reena Sethi have found success in giving back with their work to treat curable blindness among the poorer populations in Delhi, India. 

Arunodaya Charitable Trust (ACT)

Founded in 1990 and located in Delhi NCR, India, ACT is a registered, non-profit, public, non-denominational, medical, welfare trust. The trust focuses on addressing curable blindness, with the primary objective of restoring sight to the poor and needy. Since its inception, ACT has been instrumental in treating more than 1,145,000 patients. Of this number, about 40,400 have had their sight restored through successful surgeries. 

“I come from an extended family of doctors (over 145, at last count), and with my wife Reena Sethi, an ophthalmic surgeon and a highly respected phaco surgeon, we decided to divide our professional career into two parts – private practice and community eye care,” said Dr. Arun Sethi, who is the managing trustee of ACT and the ophthalmic director of ADEH.

Both Drs. Arun and Reena Sethi derive immense professional and spiritual satisfaction from their community work.

“The inspiration to undertake charity work, simultaneously, in an organized manner, came from my schooling at St. Xaviers (a Jesuit Catholic School), at Christian Medical College, at my residency at the Institute of Ophthalmology, AMU, and during a fellowship at Aravind Eye Hospital, Madurai,” added Dr. Sethi.

Arunodaya Deseret Eye Hospital (ADEH)

ADEH is a state-of-the-art tertiary eye care facility, inaugurated on January 1, 2005. It is the first of its kind located in New Gurgaon township in Delhi NCR.  

“Our chance meeting with Dr. E.W. Jackson, a visiting U.S.-based family physician, led to us join forces and see our first patient . . . under a tree, in a suburban village, in New Delhi,” recounted Dr. Sethi. “From there, we began and never looked back.” 

Following a cross-subsidy model, nearly 70 percent of the out-patients at ADEH are treated for free, or at a nominal charge. These treatments are targeted to the low-income sections in the rural areas of Haryana. Meanwhile, the other 30 percent who can afford treatment help fund the institution with revenue for its operational expenditure. 

In this way, ADEH is trying to effectively contribute towards the control of avoidable blindness, in Gurugram and other areas of Delhi NCR.

Turning the Dream into a Reality

The husband and wife team started with no infrastructure and no funds but held the firm belief that they could only improve as they had nothing to lose. They felt that their passion, skills and professional zeal was enough – and it seems they were correct. To date, they have served 1.5 million needy patients.  

“In business, you plan, strategize, and then implement. In charity, you fire, and then look around – what have I hit (achieved)?” joked Dr. Sethi.

By keeping their overhead expenses to the minimum and running a multi-tiered system, they have been able to provide free services, as well as dispense spectacles and medicines, at eye camps in designated villages.

Reaching Out to Serve the Community

To make eye care affordable to poor patients, free services are provided in their camps. There is a dedicated floor at ADEH for charity patients, who pay a nominal fee of INR Rs. 50 (about $0.70 USD) for a one-time registration, and receive two consultations per week, for only Rs. 100 (about $1.40 USD). ADEH also provides patients with subsidized spectacles and eye medicines in the charity clinics.

The paying patients pay about 75 percent of the current consultation fee charged by other hospitals. The hospital staff explain that a significant portion of that fee is used to subsidize needy patients.

“Super-Specialty” of the Sethi Family

Over the decades, eye care has become the Sethi family’s “super-specialty,” where they can serve across all sections of society, in an efficient and cost-effective manner – and with a spiritual touch. 

“What we offer is of immense benefit to the patients, especially those with limited income. At the same time, it’s very professionally rewarding for young ophthalmologists who get to see a lot more ocular diseases and pathologies,” said Dr. Sethi.

“Our family consists of five ophthalmologists, plus two employed consultants who share our vision, and this enables us to work in a good-sized footprint, covering nearly 50 villages, rural government schools, among others,” he said.

Dr. Sethi further added: “We have just launched a separate floor, as a Super-Specialty Eye OPD, to increase our footfalls in the various sub-specialties, including vitreo-retina, pediatric ophthalmology, glaucoma and refractive surgery. In addition to generating more paying patients and making all these viable . . . and when this surplus happens, we would like to extend more of these facilities with corporate support to the economically weaker sections of our society.”

They also plan to create a distinct cutting-edge facility for clinical research to reach out the population in that area. When asked if he would like to convey a message to the readers of PIE Magazine, Dr. Arun Sethi said: 

Follow your passion, and you will then enjoy your lifelong journey, with some marvelous rewards gained along the way.”

Dr. Arun Sethi and Dr. Reena Sethi

Dr. Arun Sethi and Dr. Reena Sethi have over 30 years of experience in clinical and surgical ophthalmic practice. They are consultants to leading hospitals in New Delhi, including Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre, Diplomatic Missions: including the American Embassy, British High Commission, and the Canadian High Commission. They are also members of leading professional ophthalmic societies such as the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery (ASCRS), American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), and All India Ophthalmological Society (AIOS). Email: flyingdoc16@yahoo.com

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