As the COVID-19 crisis rumbles on, philanthropy takes on an even greater meaning as humanity unites to overcome this challenge together. We had the honour to interview Dr Jayant V Iyer, Founding Director of The Vision Mission, to understand more about his vision of a better world.

What’s your inspiration for TVM?

Most candidates applying for medical school state in their interviews that one of the main reasons they want to be a doctor is that they “want to help”. I wanted to ensure that I stayed true to this motivation when taking Medicine on as my calling. 

All of us in Medicine are fortunate to be pursuing a career in which one is put in a position to directly better the lives of our fellow Man. Ophthalmology specifically is one of those fields where one is able to make a rather significant impact on someone’s life in a relatively safe and efficient manner – restoring sight through glasses or cataract surgery! 

From a young age, I’ve always had a soft spot for the vulnerable or disadvantaged and have had an activist streak in me. So the scope for humanitarian work played a large role in my choice of Ophthalmology and specifically Glaucoma and Cataract, as my subspecialist career track. 

As such, I started on my journey to explore humanitarian work through mission trips with various organizations including the YMCA and the Myanmar Eye Care Program. Through these trips I had the privilege of meeting and being inspired by many remarkable individuals linked by a common thread of superhuman passion to alleviate human suffering. These individuals played a huge role influencing me toward keeping humanitarian work a significant part of my career. In 2013, my wife and I suffered a terrible personal tragedy that ultimately resulted in the loss of my two unborn children Aaryas and Aarushi. This rather sudden event made me realize that life is fragile and that if I wanted to make a change, NOW is the time. 

I set up The Vision Mission along with my 2 like-minded friends Dr Jason Lee and Mr Avinash Jayaraman, in 2014, 2 months after the loss of my children. 

Find (and support) the Hero rather than Be the Hero

Meeting the numerous Gandhian figures throughout my various trips made me realize that The Vision Mission would have to have a different strategy compared to most other NGOs – one that does not seek to create heroes, instead one that helps prop up the good work of many unsung heroes – i.e. Find (and support) the Hero rather than Be the Hero! Through The Vision Mission we aim to train eye care specialists working in areas of need and work with them to set up self sustaining Eye Care centers of excellence. 

One of our biggest projects to date is Project Netra – in partnership with Dr Shivaprasad Sahoo in Odisha, India – through which over 8000 patients have had their sight restored since 2014 and many more are getting  access to latest evidence-based care in remote tribal regions of India. We are replicating this model of care in other regions of India and other countries too, including Vietnam and Kenya. In addition, some of us are also volunteering in other capacity building eye care programs such as Lifeline Express China to help further our reach and impact. 

We’ve been up and running for 6 years now and have offices in Singapore, India and the USA. TVM is grateful for the support of our numerous well-wishers, donors and our army of volunteers who include doctors, optometrists and other professionals who share the same passion to restore and preserve sight to all in need! 

How are you planning to overcome this Covid-19 crisis?

The Covid-19 situation has placed a significant challenge to our modus operandi. We are unable to run large scale eye care camps. In addition, we are unable to send our volunteer doctors to train staff at our partner institute. For example, we were invited to help establish an Optometry program for a partner institute in Ethiopia in collaboration with volunteers from Johns Hopkins in March 2020. All such initiatives have been postponed till the Covid-19 situation stabilises.

We are using this situation to develop newer models of eye care delivery that might include modalities such as tele-ophthalmology. In addition, we are aiming to develop or collate e-learning initiatives. 

Blindness is still ongoing regardless of Covid-19. We need to work expediently to figure out alternate strategies in delivering eye care to all who need, during this period and beyond. We are happy to welcome any new volunteers who might want to help us in this regard so that we are able to continue our war on treatable blindness even through these challenging times! 

TVM and Lenicc

We are grateful to Lenicc for choosing to join hands with us in helping rid the world of needless vision impairment! 

Lenicc and TVM need to consider how we can improve upon the optometry arm of our work as almost 40% of all blindness worldwide may be treated by prescription glasses. We look forward to taking this partnership to the next step so that together, we may create a significant dent on vision impairment in Asia and beyond!

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