Bharti Kashyap with a few of those who underwent free cataract surgery in Ranchi earlier this week. (Hardeep Singh)
Ranchi, Feb. 6: Forty eight-year-old Balram Gope and his wife Sohagi, who looks much older than her 40 years, admit that back home in Sauda village in the midst of Saranda, they are often forced to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea.
“We have to contend with rebels who demand rice and food from us. They also want us to join their ranks. At the same time, we are a forgotten lot. There are no hospitals, no healthcare centres and no one to turn to when one is ill. Our four sons are nearly blind and we have nowhere to go,” cried Balram Gope, as he waited at the Kashyap Memorial Eye Hospital in Ranchi, which is conducting free cataract surgery through its charitable wing Kashyap Memorial Eye Bank for villagers from Manoharpur, once a Maoist stronghold.
In the remote villages, in the dense saal reserve, development is still a far cry. “At Sauda, there are no anganwadi workers,” revealed Bharti Kashyap, medical director of Kashyap Memorial Eye Hospital, who conducted a free eye camp at Saranda last month.
Gope’s sons suffer from congenital cataract, caused either due to viral infection or acute malnutrition of the mother at the time of birth. Though the parents have normal sight, all four children were born with cataract. “All four children have malaria. Hi-tech cataract surgery with foldable intra-ocular lens has been performed on two of the children. We were unable to operate on the other two as they are severely affected by malarial parasites,” Kashyap said.
Pholeen Xaxa, a postgraduate student at Jawaharlal Nehru College at Chakradharpur, echoed Balaram. She too has brought her 55-year-old mother for a free cataract surgery. “I commute daily from my village Jhargora in Manoharpur police station area to my college at Chakradharpur. Very often, I run into gun-toting extremists. Though they have not done any harm to me, I am terrified,” she said.
She added that there are no hospitals or healthcare facilities at her village or in its vicinity. “Living conditions are horrible and we just manage to survive. My mother would have been blind save for Kashyap Memorial Eye Bank, which conducted a free eye camp at Saranda last month,” she stressed.
“I could not have afforded a cataract surgery,” said 46-year-old Manoharpur resident Abdul Jabbar, who attends weekly haats with his sack load of chappals.
“I attend the Sunday haat at Chiria, the Saturday haat at Rajubera, Thursday haat at Hua Road and the Wednesday haat at Sohai. I sell chappals at to provide two meals for me and the family. Since no state hospitals exist, where do I get additional funds to take care of my eyes? Jabbar quizzed.
Kashyap said they had seen 1,000 patients during a screening camp at Augustine School, Manoharpur, last month. Of them, 325 patients were found suffering from cataract.
“We selected 250 patients for hi-tech cataract surgery to be done at Kashyap Memorial Eye Hospital. We have split the patients in batches of 50 each as we cannot hospitalise all at the same time,” she said.
All patients would also be given free glasses. “The process could be speeded up if we were given a mobile ophthalmic van by the state government. If we had the van, free glasses could have been given to the patients at their doorsteps without having to bring them all the way to Ranchi,” Kashyap added.