The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced the Aravind Eye Care System in Tamil Nadu, India, as the winner of the 2008 Gates Award for Global Health. Avarind was given the $1 million award, which honors extraordinary efforts to improve health in developing countries, in recognition of its groundbreaking work to prevent debilitating blindness and provide affordable, world-class eye care to the poor.
Founded in 1976 in a rented house with only eleven beds, Aravind has grown into a thriving network of hospitals and satellite clinics that provide eye exams and surgeries, train healthcare professionals, conduct research, and manufacture eye-care products. The organization has helped save millions of people from debilitating blindness in India, where cataracts account for more than half the cases of blindness. In the past year, the Aravind network provided out-patient care to approximately 2.4 million patients and performed more than 280,000 surgeries. Thanks in part to its efforts, the estimated number of blind people in India fell from 8.9 million in 1990 to 6.7 million in 2002 — a 25 percent decrease.
"Ensuring that the world's poorest people can access essential health care is an ongoing challenge in global health," said Dr. Nils Daulaire, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Global Health Council. "Aravind has demonstrated that there are ways to do good and commit to providing the highest quality services while utilizing the latest technologies and scientific advances."