Gullapalli N. Rao, MD, was nominated by The Cornea Society to receive the 2013 Outstanding Humanitarian Service Award at the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s (AAO) annual meeting.
Dr. Rao completed his ophthalmology residency at the prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences, followed by a cornea fellowship at Tufts University. He then moved to Rochester, New York, for another fellowship with James Aquavella, MD, and continued there on the clinical faculty of University of Rochester. In 1986 he decided to leave his thriving academic career to establish a comprehensive, high-quality, sustainable eye care system in his home state of Andhra Pradesh, India.
Through Dr. Rao’s entrepreneurial spirit, he created the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute, a system that encompasses all levels of eye care from the most basic screening to the most complex care and extends from the most rural areas of the state to the finest tertiary care hospitals in the cities. The L.V. Prasad Eye Institute is one of the largest eye care systems in the world. It was established and remains a not-for-profit, non-government institution. It was founded with the vision of “excellence and equity” and provides equal care for all patients, whether they can afford to pay or not (more than half cannot).
This model of care is based on a pyramid, the base of which is in the communities. The apex is the tertiary eye centers and the center of excellence. There are currently 100 primary care centers, 10 secondary care centers, three tertiary care centers and the main campus center of excellence in Hyderabad. The concept has been so successful that it has been replicated in other states in India and other countries around the world. The scalability of this vision center model, combined with Dr. Rao’s dedication to propagating the model to other states in India and to other developing countries, has made quality eye care available to millions of individuals who previously did not have access to even rudimentary ophthalmic care.
In addition to the impressive prevention programs and clinical care, LVPEI is well known for its educational programs for all cadres of eye care personnel, all areas of eye research, eye banking and a very robust rehabilitation program for those with irreversible blindness and low vision.
Dr Rao was also secretary general and later on chairman/CEO of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness. Dr. Rao played an important role in the initiation and execution of VISION 2020: The Right to Sight.
Dr. Rao has received numerous honors, including the International Blindness Prevention Award and Senior Honor Awards of the Academy, Kupfer award of ARVO, Bernardo Streiff Award of the Academia Ophthalmologica Internationalis and World Cornea Congress medal and the inaugural Asian Eye Bank Society award, in addition to several other honors nationally and internationally.
Dr. Rao’s endless devotion and dedication has improved the quality of life for millions, not only in India but internationally. As a board member of The Cornea Society, Dr. Rao provides an international perspective, constantly thinking about ways to improve international eye health and educate his international colleagues. He is a tireless advocate for advancing availability of care to underserved areas, encouraging The Cornea Society to support the training of ophthalmologists in those areas. He is constantly thinking about ways to improve international eye health, the education of international colleagues and cooperation among various eye care organizations.
The Academy is proud to honor Dr. Rao with this year’s Outstanding Humanitarian Service Award.
(A version of this article appeared originally on the AAO website here).