Applying pharmacy school training to blindness prevention in India

Ashish Patel, a 4th-year University of California, San Francisco student pharmacist, is one of the next generation of pharmacists choosing to apply his training and expertise globally in new ways.

In February 2009, Patel traveled to India to learn about eye health, current health care models and challenges, and to begin the implementation of a malnutrition and child blindness prevention program. For Patel, whose father is Indian and mother is of India descent who was raised in Kenya, the trip was a family affair.

Patel, two of his uncles and an aunt have teamed up with Combat Blindness Foundation (CBF), a non-profit organization that is dedicated to eradicating avoidable blindness in the developing world. "For many years CBF has been holding free eye camps to screen natives for blindness and infections. Recently, CBF has taken a larger stance on reaching out to rural communities in India and approaching child blindness due to malnutrition, primarily vitamin A deficiency," explains Patel.

"Avoidable blindness can be either treated or prevented by known, cost-effective means. 33 million of the world's 37 million people who are blind live in developing countries," explains Patel. "26 million cases of blindness could be cured or prevented. Of these 18.5 million cases are caused by cataracts, a clouding of the lens in the eye. In India, blindness is underreported and rampant, and it takes less than US$20 to help one person restore sight and save a child from going blind," Patel adds.


Patel and his family visited various rural sites in the Indian state of Gujurat to find ways to expand the services of CBF. "The new arm, where I come into play is building programs around the prevention of childhood malnutrition, which has a marked effect on blindness in India. As many as 90% of children who can become blind due to malnutrition could retain their sight if they had basic daily feeding programs," says Patel.

And how do pharmacy school and the prevention of blindness intersect? "My teachings and experiences during pharmacy school have prepared me to understand that pharmacy is not just medications but the marriage between drugs and service. Pharmaceutical care models can play out and be applied to many settings. This is especially true of those preventative practices that student pharmacists learn and apply in community pharmacy settings and at health fairs."

India Eye Camps is Patel's diary during his 6 days in India. It begins with Getting to Anand. More photos: Flickr: India Eye Camps.

Photos in India: © Ashish Patel.


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