He became a full fledged Doctor in 1981, fulfilling the dream he had seen when he was just 6 years old. His father ran a bookshop – in fact the most famous and popular book shop of Nagpur called ‘Western Book Depot’ in Sadar. Little Vinay could have easily got lost in the wonderland of the ‘Print and glossy world of books and magazines’ and followed his family into the profession of selling books, it was a different Pied Piper he chose to follow.
One of his dad’s closest friends was Dr. Beri, a big name in the Medical College and among the medical fraternity and he inspired Vinay to become a Doctor when he grew up. He was only in the second standard when he made this decision and never changed it even in his growing up turbulent years when the dreams of boys change on a daily basis.
As a student he was bright, studious and did everything with his full concentration. Getting through MBBS thus must have been a breeze. He had already focused on ophthalmology by then since this is one field where you can help young children in ways that can change their entire future lives. ( Even today 41% Indian children require visual correction and do not get it spoiling their academic and thus their professional life.)
For further studies in Ophthalmology, what better place than Shankar Netralaya in Chennai? The world renowned hospital that was inspired by the words of His Holiness Sankaracharya Jayendra Saraswati, of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham who spoke of the need to create a hospital with a missionary spirit while speaking to a group of doctors in 1976.His words marked the beginning of a long journey to do God’s own work.
Taking the counsel seriously, Dr. Sengamedu Srinivasa Badrinath, along with a group of philanthropists founded a charitable not-for-profit eye hospital…
One that would bring world-class eye care to the people of India. And one that would adopt a single standard of care for all, rich or poor. One that would also share the fruits of its knowledge and spread its concept of care to distant parts of India. What better place could anyone find for higher studies than this? His stint here really influenced and guided Dr. Nangia’s actions in life later.
From Chennai, Vinay went to UK and later to USA honing his skills as an eye surgeon and gathering more knowledge and experience. In UK he worked at the Manchester Royal Hospital and later at Aberdeen Royal Informatory where he was elected as Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS) and Royal College of Opthalmologists.From US he went to USA where he did a fellowship in Glaucoma at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary at the world famous Harvard Univeristy, in Boston.
With a background like that he could have very well stayed on in the US or UK earning money in droves, because remember that was the time when Doctors were in great demand in USA and Indians were being welcomed with open arms? Some qualifying tests were mandatory, which Vinay had already cracked in his student days in India only…the ubiquitious Green Card and paradise beckoned but Dr. Nangia turned his back on all that and returned back not just to India, but to Nagpur! It was the time the Indian government had loosened duties on imported medical equipment and bringing them to India was easy and comparatively cheaper than before.He was full of plans, zeal, idealism, and goals – but no money! He had not yet begun private practise in USA, remember?
So how to make good the dreams and live the goal? Service clubs like Rotary and some foreigners stepped in. From Nagpur, young Dr. Vinay Nangia had been chosen for Group Study Exchange by the Rotary Club of Nagpur to go to Netherlands. Speaking to a group of Rotarians about his goals in India Vinay had outlined his dream of a Research Institute and cheap, even free medical help to rural poor, and also confessed that he had little funds, but would “manage to mobilize them somehow”.
The group listening to him did not say anything, they just passed a hat around. And in minutes they handed over in their currency an equivalent of Rs. 90.000/ for Vinay to ” go, make good your dream”! This was a lot of money then, but not quite enough. Nevertheless Vinay got cracking in setting up his hospital and his teaching and training Institute and money kept flowing from Rotary and elsewhere.
It was not all easy going of course. he had many critics who found fault with his goals, his methods the way he ran his clinic, his hospital, everything…
“I treated my critics as my best friends and took all suggestions positively” says Dr. Nangia who runs a multi storeyed ‘Suraj Eye Institute’ today in the upmarket areas of Byramji Town and New Colony. So famous is the place that if you have to visit any location nearby you are given directions from the context of ‘Suraj Eye Hospital’ – even if you have never been there!
Beginning with a small practise, he kept adding on as funds came in, never forgetting his larger twin goals of special eye care for children and charity work for poor and villagers around Nagpur. Now Dr. Nangia is the chief investigator for the Central India Eye and Medical Study and the Central India Children Eye Study. The various specialties offered at Suraj are:
Cataract / Glaucoma Surgery
In his multi storey institute/ hospital, there is a floor each reserved for pediatric opthalmology and one floor for the charity patients who come mostly from towns in MP and Chattisgarh apart from villages near Nagpur.
Orbis an international eye organisation supported the Paediatric Eye Project called ‘Improved Sight- Improved Life. This led to the Suraj Eye Institute reaching out to hundreds of schools and identifying and treating children who needed difficulty eye surgery.
‘There is a lot of emphasis on Research, in every field of the subject. As Vinay says proudly “Indians are the best people to do research. They are intelligent, hard working and value academic excellence over money. Yes, even now… we have to retrospect about why we do not have Research Institutes and universities on par with those in US and UK with such a pool of experts.”
I asked Dr Nangia what is the cheapest way of reducing levels of visual impairment, something that would touch millions of lives. He mentioned the findings from the Central India Eye and Medical Study. The rate of refractive under correction in rural Central India is 33.8%. 50% of them are visually impaired.
Extrapolating these figures to whole of India. 10.98 crores of rural Indians are under corrected of which 5.67 crores are visually impaired. Of these 5.67 crores, 4.82 crores may be improved simply by giving glasses. This is a significant public eye health issue. Something that is doable. However reaching out to the rural communities is not easy, unless the Government makes a priority out of this. The solutions are well known and possible.
Touching upon the Medical profession and medical facilities in India vis a vis ‘developed nations’ such as USA, Dr. Nangia concedes that we are not Insurance driven like over there so medical treatment is still expensive but Doctors are much more accessible to urban Indian people than in USA! You have to wait for weeks to get an appointment with your insurance agency approved Specialist in US, here you can walk into a Doctor’s clinic – of any specialty – and see him/ her without an appointment!
Vinay agrees that unfortunately people in rural India still do not have this choice but says it would be wrong to blame doctors for not going to villages to set up practise. “Where is the infrastructure?” He asks. Uninterrupted power, pathology labs, work ethos – it’s all lacking. Though many tier 3 towns are now also developing fast as medical centers. More will come as the nation progresses more.
“Just give this government and Indian Docs a few more years, and you will see miraculous and rapid progress” says Dr. Nangia. “We will have foreigners coming to India in large numbers for ‘medical tourism’ that is affordable and dependable.
We can quite believe him. After all if one man’s dream, begun with funds of Rs. 90,000/ have blossomed into the Suraj Institute today, other miracles are possible too.
Sunita Mudaliar Associate Editor