The Stars and Stalwarts of Ophthalmology, Honored at AIOC 2022

In a special session on Day 1 of the 80th Annual Conference of the All India Ophthalmological Society (AIOS) in Mumbai, Maharashtra (a.k.a. DREAMCON AIOC 2022), recipients of the AIOS General Awards 2021 were honored with a tribute. Each awardee shared their journeys, not just in life, but in ophthalmology as well. Aptly named Ophthalmology, My Life and My Dreams, the session’s theme spoke volumes of each awardees’ humble beginnings, finer qualities and noble aspirations for the future of ophthalmology.

Keynote Speaker Prof. Ava Hossain opened the session by recognizing her parents, her family, the schools she went to, and especially, her many mentors along the way, with whom she credits her success. Without them, she said, she would not have reached the leadership status she currently has in ophthalmology, not just in her home country of Bangladesh, but also in India and the whole Asia-Pacific region. 

Indeed, Prof. Hossain has come a long way: From being rejected for an ophthalmology training course in 1979 because of her gender, to becoming the first female ophthalmology fellow in Bangladesh (1985) — and then the first ever woman President-Elect (2019) in the 62-year history of the Asia-Pacific Academy of Ophthalmology (APAO). Furthermore, she has been awarded the APAO Arthur Lim Award, a prestigious award for her contribution in the prevention of blindness — just one of the many feathers in her cap. 

Today, Prof. Hossain continues to teach and enlighten young ophthalmologists through her various leadership roles in the ophthalmic community, while basking in the love of her immediate family. “I am quite fortunate in getting unconditional support from my husband and family,” she emphasized.

Why ophthalmology?

“Ophthalmology combines the best of medicine in one specialty — it is medical, and it is surgical, treating both wellness and disease,” said AIOS C. N. Shroff Award 2021 recipient, Prof. Dr. Atul Kumar, when it was his turn to take the center stage. 

“Our patients span all ages, and the range of the diagnoses is broad. The technology in ophthalmology is breathtaking, and the innovation — as I have witnessed — is constant,” he added. Since 2016, Prof. Dr. Kumar has served as chief and professor of ophthalmology for the Dr. Rajendra Prasad Centre for Ophthalmic Sciences (RPC) at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi. He is well known for his efforts in the upliftment of ophthalmology in India, and despite his countless high-level accolades in his four-decade-long ophthalmic career, Prof. Dr. Kumar remains a passionate teacher and learner. “Learning never ceases,” he highlighted. While he started as a junior resident of RPC at AIIMS way back in the early ‘80s, he continued his professional work with focus on patient care and mentoring students. He never hesitated to face challenges along the way and his eye on innovation in ophthalmology never waned: For example, Prof. Dr. Kumar pioneered and aced the heads-up 3D VR surgery in India. 

On the other hand, it was program failure and an early heart health issue that almost curtailed AIOS P. Siva Reddy Award 2021 recipient Dr. Samar Basak’s career in ophthalmology. But he has always dreamed of becoming a faculty member of the prestigious RPC at AIIMS. However, it seemed that in every moment, there was an obstacle. But he never gave up.

According to Dr. Basak, the one thing that can prevent you from achieving your dreams is when the conflict between job and career starts. “A job is often boring and has no scope to grow further,” he said. “A career on the other hand is a journey that includes your job experience, learning, training, teaching, and most importantly, your attitude toward fulfilling your long-term dreams or goals,” Dr. Basak explained. 

So when an opportunity knocked and he was called to join and build a hospital for a cause, Dr. Basak took a leap of faith. At present, he is the director of DISHA Eye Hospitals & Research Centre and dreams of having 1,000 cornea surgeons, each of whom could perform 100 grafts per year. He believes that 100,000 grafts per year can support the Vision 2020 India Program. “Your career is a journey, not a job. So dream and enjoy the climb,” Dr. Basak added. 

The Evolving Ophthalmic Technology

Similar to Prof. Dr. Atul Kumar, AIOS P. Siva Reddy International Award 2021 recipient, Prof. Jeewan Singh Titiyal, MD, always had an eye for the evolving technology in ophthalmology. Sharing his evolution as an anterior segment surgeon, Prof. Titiyal was very nostalgic when he shared his triumph over modern day cataract surgery and overcoming the learning curve in SMILE (small incision lenticule extraction) — a far cry from his first intracapsular cataract extraction in the early ‘80s. Although he said, “all that, are not my true achievements.”

“My true achievement lies not in the performing of thousands of surgeries with the latest technology or optimal costs to the patient or hospital,” noted Prof. Titiyal. He said that his real triumphs include training the next generation of ophthalmologists in cutting-edge technology, for one. “That, and bringing them at par with the global platform,” he emphasized. “And then when my students become my teacher and together we promote research and innovative thinking for the betterment of society,” he explained. 

Uveitis and Eye Banking: Eye Care Dilemmas as Old as Time

AIOS B. K. Narayan Award 2021 recipient, Dr. Jyotirmay Biswas’s journey in “battling” uveitis goes back some sweet 28 years, which basically started with India’s battle against tuberculosis. “Two million people develop TB every year and every 4th TB patient is an Indian,” said Dr. Biswas. Tubercular uveitis is the protean manifestation, he said. Having been involved for more than two decades in various national and international studies involving ocular tuberculosis, Dr. Biswas and his co-investigators found that the most common presentation of the condition is asymptomatic choroidal tubercle — this occurs in more than 50% of patients with ocular TB. Throughout the years of investigating this ancient disease, newer therapeutic strategies now focus on even more novel modes of immunomodulation. 

Efforts in eye banking, like for uveitis, is an eye condition and dilemma that continues to be in progress, and is not fully addressed or treated. It’s not that experts are failing, but the condition itself is evolving to higher levels as time goes by. 

“While prevention is the most desirable way to control corneal blindness, once a cornea loses its transparency, a corneal transplant is the patient’s best chance to regain vision in the affected eye,” stated Dr. Sujata Das, AIOS K.R. Dutta Award 2021 recipient. 

Easier said than done as it’s a known fact that the biggest limiting factor is the shortage of donor corneas, Dr. Das reminded the audience. “There is a huge need for transplantable donor corneas in order to reduce the rate of corneal blindness worldwide,” she added. 

While she presented the data and known statistics on the global issue of blindness, Dr. Das focused more on the vision for India and how efforts on putting up eye banks will impact the eradication of blindness. Moreover, Dr. Das shared that the vision is that there’ll be no more waiting lists for cornea blinds in India and that the country should export corneas to other countries in need. “Eye banking activities are in full swing in all states, so that donor families can fulfill the wishes of their loved ones,” she concluded. Eye bank training efforts, as well as training corneal surgeons and general ophthalmologists, are crucial to this noble cause, and India, in general, is a major player.

Editor’s Note: The DREAMCON AIOC 2022 is being held as a physical show on 2-5 June at the Jio World Centre in Mumbai, India. Reporting for this story took place during the conference. Media MICE is the Official Media Partner of AIOC 2022. 

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