School of Optometry & Vision Science, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
L V Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad, India
My optometry education at L V Prasad Eye Institute (LVPEI) has provided me with ample opportunities to specialize in any sub-specialty is ophthalmology / optometry. I always had an intention to take the “road less taken” and specialize in an area not many have explored. Community Eye Health or Public Eye Health is one such area.In 1996, I met Dr.LalitDandona who visited Nidadavole village in West Godavari district, where I was posted as a fellow in a rural eye hospital (LVPEI partner hospital).Just after few minutes of discussion with him on my future plans, he immediately offered me a position in the clinical team for the epidemiological study, Andhra Pradesh Eye Disease Study (APEDS), which was coming up few months from then. This study that was undertaken by LVPEI went on for four years (1996-2000) and was a great success resulting in numerous landmark publications in the field of Community Eye Health or Public Health Eye Health as some people prefer to call it.
Dr.Dandona was a great leader and a fantastic researcher. He always duly acknowledged my efforts and also gave me opportunities to co-author the manuscripts from the study. The next turning point in my career came when I joined Masters in Community Eye health course at the International Centre for Eye Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Taught by stalwarts in the field such as Dr. Allen Foster and Dr. Clare Gilbert, my outlook changed completely. I began to realize that every patient is a part of a family and a part of the larger society hence both the eye condition and its intervention impacts the family as a whole. I also understood that several socio-economic and personal factors influence the uptake of services even when they are available at no cost. I also began to understand the intricacies of patient-centered care and community eye care at large.
Though I believe large epidemiological studies such as the APEDS are vital to establish the burden of visual impairment and plan strategies to address it, they are expensive and resource intensive and hence cannot be repeated at regular intervals.This is where I believe rapid assessment methods are needed. As a part of my PhD work, I developed a novel rapid assessment method for detecting uncorrected refractive errors in the community. Post my PhD, I modified the currently used rapid assessment methods and field tested it successfully. This method is now being used in several locations. Several publications continue to come from these studies.
I am always inspired by Dr.Gullapalli N Rao and very fortunate to have him as my mentor for my doctoral studies. Dr.JillKeeffe was my other PhD supervisor who had a profound impact on my development as a researcher. Working with Dr.David Friedman as a post-doctoral fellow at the Dana Center for Preventive Ophthalmology at Wilmer and taking courses at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has laid the perfect platform for me to start my research career in public eye health.
My interest to study the burden of visual impairment in specific communities took me to the fishing communities and cloth weaverscommunities in Prakasam where I carried out rapid assessment studies which resulted in publications. Working in the ‘homes for the aged’ in Prakasam district was an eye-opener for me. I found a huge burden of visual impairment in these elderly populations, most of which is avoidable. Research on this topic is almost non-existent in India.
My research is intended to provide valuable estimates on the extent of the problem of vision loss among residents in homes for the aged. These research findings will be used to plan robust strategies for vision care of the vulnerable group of elderly people and to help improve the quality of life tothese people, achieving the overarching goal of ‘health aging’ in these populations. This formed the basis for my research study as a part of my Wellcome Trust DBT India Alliance fellowship.
Currently, I am a co-investigator for APEDS III, the re-visit of surviving cohort of the APEDS I study. APEDS III wasstarted in 2012 to understand the progression (among cases) and incidence (new cases) of visual impairment, blindness, lens opacities and refractive errors. This study is scheduled to be completed by the year 2015.
I have a strong aspiration to transform myself into an independent and productive public health researcher in the next 4-5 years with a focus on research on key public challenges such as blindness and visual impairment and to contribute to science and society in every small way I can.I not only have a passion for public health research, I also have an obligation. Most of my education is funded through scholarships (public funds) and I feel I need to repay this through my contribution to science and work towards alleviating problems of the under privileged in India.The welcome trust DBT India Alliance fellowship is an excellent platform to realize my aspirations to become a better researcher in public health in the years to come.
Apart from research and teaching, I love music and have a passion for photography. I go out for photography whenever there is an opportunity.