Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy, also known as Dr. V to colleagues and patients, was an Indian ophthalmologist who dedicated his life to eliminating needless blindness. On this day, Dr. V was born in 1918. Google doodle celebrates his 100th birthday by paying tribute to him. He is the founder and former chairman of Aravind Eye Hospitals, the largest provider of eye care in the world. Aravind Eye Hospital started as an 11-bed facility and now has grown into a network of clinics providing life-changing care to citizens of a nation struggling with high rates of blindness.
Born on October 1, 1918, Govindappa Venkataswamy was raised in Vadamalapuram, a rural village in Southern India. He began his education at a school with no paper or pencils—spreading sand from the riverbank on the ground, students would write with their hands. From such humble beginnings, he went on to earn a B.A. in chemistry from American College in Madurai, an M.D. from Stanley Medical College in Madras in 1944.
Joining the Indian Army Medical Corps straight out of medical school, Dr. V’s plans for a career in obstetrics were derailed when he was stricken with rheumatoid arthritis so severe that he was confined to his bed for a year. Simple acts like walking or holding a pen became a serious challenge, but somehow he managed to return to school and study for a degree in ophthalmology in 1951. Despite his health issues, he learned how to perform surgery to remove cataracts—the leading cause of blindness. Dr. V could perform 100 surgeries in a day. Addressing the problem of blindness in a holistic fashion, he set up eye camps in rural communities, a rehab center for blind people, and a training program for ophthalmic assistants, personally performing over 100,000 successful eye surgeries. In 1973 he received the Padmashree award from the Government of India for outstanding service to the nation.
Facing mandatory retirement at age 58, Dr. V began the next phase of his career in 1976, establishing the GOVEL Trust in order to fund the first Aravind Eye Hospital. The 11-bed facility was financed by doctors mortgaging their homes and donating their own furniture. The vision was to devote six beds to those patients who could not pay anything and to cover those costs with the other five beds, serving patients paying only as much as they could afford.
Today Aravind Eye Hospital has nearly 4,000 beds performing over 200,000 eye surgeries each year, with 70% of patients paying little or nothing. This seemingly miraculous result has been made possible by a relentless focus on efficiency and good management. Dr. V lowered the cost of cataract operations to nearly $10 per patient. His team of paramedics do most of the prep work required for each surgery, freeing doctors to do what they do best. Each year Aravind performs 60% as many eye surgeries as the NHS in Great Britain, doing so at a one-one thousandth of the cost.
As Dr V said, “Intelligence and capability are not enough. There must also be the joy of doing something beautiful.”
Happy 100th Birthday Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy!