Who would have believed…?
‘. . A day will come, we don’t know when, but will certainly come when we get a new flu virus which has both the properties – transmissibility like H1N1- swine flu and highly fatal like H5N1-bird flu.
And then we are in big trouble. Then that virus could be around the world in a week. Estimates are that at least 200 million will die. Could be more. Economies will shut down. No one will go to work. And the economic loss will be trillion and trillions of dollars.
And that will be a big catastrophe. The race is on to try and stop that from happening. But at the moment we are completely vulnerable.
We have nothing in place to prevent that from happening right now.’
That’s Dr. Richard Feecham, Director, Global Health Group, USA, in his guest lecture to the Aravind staff on December 4th, 2019.
Who would have believed that even as he was predicting the certainty of the pandemic, it had already originated in China.
– a situation will arise that will bring the entire globe to a complete standstill.
– Aravind Eye Hospitals remain closed for more than four weeks, except for emergency cases. This is a first time since inception, it didn’t close down even when Dr. V passed away, since he wouldn’t have wanted that to happen.
– while all hostels and paid accommodations, world over closed down, Aravind MLOPs and some postgraduates in ophthalmology and Fellows continue to remain in the safety nest of Aravind accommodations being taken care of by a dedicated team of catering and housekeeping staff, and are kept occupied productively while maintaining social distancing all the time and everywhere
– even with the lockdown, IT Personnel have been busy developing new products for this changed patient care scenario, besides continuing the routine IT support
– many of the staff will be working online and be as productive, if not more, than the usual hours at work.
Faced with the challenge of this unusual circumstance, Aravind as always has taken it up as an opportunity. A rare opportunity, where for the first time, everything that was pushed aside with patient care as the top priority, can now be attended to.
Aravind continues its services, catering to only emergency cases at the base hospitals with a conscious effort to keep the patient footfall to the minimum. All the elective procedures remain suspended. Ample precautionary measures were taken and a set of protocols in the context of COVID-19 were developed which are being strictly adhered to, towards ensuring the safety of staff as well as patients.
Care Just a Call Away
While tele-consultation has already been in place at Aravind’s vision centres, the lock down paved way for the facility to be implemented in its base hospitals. The initiative has been going well with the public and so far, over 400 e-consultations have happened through Aravind website and Whatsapp. Aravind may consider continuing the e-consultation service into the future.
Life is Ever Beautiful
Aravind’s mid-level ophthalmic personnel, rightly referred to as the backbone of Aravind, are used to a busy daily routine attending to patients, performing routine clinical procedures, carrying out administrative tasks etc. Nothing is the same since the 25th of March when the hospitals closed for routine patients following the curfew. Housing the sheer volume of these MLOPs across all centres, is a matter of concern in the context of COVID-19. And that too all day and night. The leaders across all Aravind centres have brought in several measures that were meticulously planned, implemented and rigorously monitored to ensure that they follow social distancing and the prescribed hygienic measures.
The days of uncertainty brought in by the lockdown and being in the hostel away from their families could be emotionally stressful to many of them. To address this several activities are being organized, to lift up their spirits. The highlight being that they get to choose the activity of their liking. The strategy has paid off well and across all the hospitals, one could witness the joy of the MLOPs at finding avenues to unleash their hidden talents and the recognition they receive.
For many, the lockdown days turned out to be a time for a realisation that the key to happiness is in one’s own hands and that life, with all its challenges, is still beautiful.
Focus on the Need of the Hour
At Aurolab, all routine production work came to a halt when the curfew was announced. And the focus was turned towards preparing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health care workers. Production of hand sanitisers has been stepped up to meet the increasing demand. Aurolab designed and produced a protective shield to be placed on the slip lamp, and a face shield for the doctors to wear during other procedures, to prevent the spread of infection while examining patients. These face shields will go a long way benefitting a wider community beyond eye care workers.
Aurolab was also involved with drafting the COVID-19 precaution measures and guidelines for the use of various PPEs to be used by eye care workers.. These guidelines will be useful not only to Aravind but also to the wider ophthalmic community.
Aurolab is providing a complimentary safety kit consisting of 2 hand sanitisers, 2 face shields and 1 Slit lamp shield for ophthalmologists in Tamil Nadu. Once logistics restrictions are eased, Aurolab plans to provide this to ophthalmologists across the nation.
LAICO during Lockdown…
Thanks to technology LAICO continues to work in full steam even during the lockdown. Each day starts with all faculty meeting over a video-conferencing system from 9 to 10 am. During this, each one gives an update on what they have been working on and commitments are made on new activities. In addition, the LAICO team engages thrice a week on a joint learning session of a course offered by Institute of Health care Improvement, Boston on the “Model for Improvement”.
Spirit of Sharing
Under the leadership of its chairman Dr. R D Ravindran, Aravind after consulting several published guidelines and interacting with other institutions in India and elsewhere, developed a set of guidelines and protocols to be followed in order to deliver quality services while at the same time safeguarding the health of Aravind’s staff and preventing the spread of Covid-19. However, many smaller eye hospitals across India are handicapped in not knowing how to manage their day-to-day operations during this period. In response to this situation, LAICO is organising a series of weekly webinars for its network of partner hospitals to share these guidelines. The first webinar in the series was held on 15th April and covered three topics: Patho-physiology of COVID-19 and Treatment Options (Dr. Banushree), Risk of COVID-19 spread through the ocular route (Dr.Venkatesh Prajna) and Patient care protocol during COVID-19 (Dr. R Venkatesh) (See video). The second webinar scheduled for 24th April will focus on the protocols and guidelines for use of personal protection equipment (PPE) by the hospital staff. LAICO has also requested the partner hospitals to submit their areas of concern so that the webinars can be designed to include topics to address the same.
LAICO also continues its offer of specific capacity building inputs to other hospitals by way virtual classes and webinars.
COVID 19 Lockdown, the ‘first of its kind, never ever before’ situation is giving rise to many ‘first of its kind’ events. The online CME on Ophthalmic Imaging offered by Aravind-Tirunelveli is one such event.
The CME planned for the 22nd of March, had to be cancelled owing to the COVID-19 threat. Ophthalmic imaging is a much sought after and ever changing field and eminent faculty within and outside Aravind had prepared well for the CME. As the lockdown days were extended, Aravind-Tirunelveli found this a perfect opportunity to share this knowledge online. All the faculty joined this online platform from their own settings and the live webinar sessions on various topics were conducted, spread over four days, an hour to 90 minutes each day. The overwhelming response has made it worthwhile. On an average 100 doctors participated in each webinar through Zoom, and there were more than 700 viewers for the You Tube live streaming (See video).
Learning Never Stops
Aravind vision centres remain shut down since the third week of March. To utilise this downtime, the staff of these centres are being encouraged to update and brush up on their knowledge in ophthalmology. Through Whatsapp, photos and videos are shared, based on which daily online quizzes are being conducted. Senior VC staff take turns to frame 10 questions each day. The quiz is accompanied with explanations for each correct answer and additional reference links. Currently over 60 VC staff take this quiz every day. This pilot with Madurai and Pondicherry vision centre staff is being expanded to include all VC staff.
Do-it-Yourself Mask: An Innovation Well-timed
The COVID crisis rather than slowing down, further spurred innovation at Aravind-Pondy who immediately developed a “do-it-yourself” face mask to protect the care givers (See video). The do-it-yourself concept had a specific relevance given the reality of challenges in the movement of goods.
Research Keeps Going
Going by the concept that research can happen any where, any time, scientists at AMRF continued to engage in their research activities through virtual meetings and telephone conversations and sometimes, even face to face discussions. Project updates are being shared regularly. True to the need of the time, a research proposal is being developed in collaboration with Alagappa University and Sri Ramachandra University to combat COVID-19. Dr. D. Bharanidharan participated in a discussion related to the impact of COVID-19 in cancer patients on Kalaingar News (See video).
While lab schedules and meetings take up most of the time on regular working days, the lock down as given space for many scientists to concentrate on long-pending manuscript works for submission to journals. Research activities inside the labs almost coming to a halt resulting in various equipment and instruments lying idle, staff take turns to visit the labs and make sure that they are being taken care of and maintained properly.
To Sir(s), with Love
Together we shall overcome…
All Aravind employees including doctors, MLOPs, administrative staff, maintenance staff, drivers, security staff, catering staff and cleaning staff rose to the occasion by performing their duties with dedication and sincerity, true to the longstanding values and tradition of Aravind. The catering staff and sanitary staff need a special mention of appreciation, since their work has increased manifold in recent times. The period has brought in the best from each one of the staff.