Australian aid money funds Indian charity eye hospital

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Health centre trains young women to become ophthalmic paramedics

The charity hospital was established in 1914 and operates on a cross-subsidy model, with 60% of patients being underprivileged people who receive eye care treatment free of cost. Along with the New Delhi hospital, Dr Shroff’s runs three secondary hospitals and 16 vision centres in Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

A training program for young women to become ophthalmic paramedics at a charity hospital in India struggled to get off the ground until it received Australian aid funding, hospital staff said.

Dr Shroff’s Charity Eye Hospital program manager Sunita Arora told the Indian Sun the two-year course was first launched in 2006, “but it ran in a very erratic manner… because funding was not there”. This meant basic necessities like trainee uniforms, infrastructure and administration were lacking.

In October, Australia’s Ambassador for women and girls Natasha Stott Despoja visited Dr Shroff’s hospital in New Delhi to announce a new $23,000 contribution towards a computer classroom, under Australia’s Direct Aid Program.

The charity hospital was established in 1914 and operates on a cross-subsidy model, with 60% of patients being underprivileged people who receive eye care treatment free of cost. Along with the New Delhi hospital, Dr Shroff’s runs three secondary hospitals and 16 vision centres in Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

Arora said the hospital started receiving Australian aid funding about three years ago. “The money revived the training program and enabled my employment as a dedicated person to care for the students 24/7,” she said.

The training programwas re-launched in February 2014 and the first batch of students is due to complete in 2016. After graduating, the young women will be encouraged to take permanent positions in Dr Shroff’s hospitals and vision centres

The women who join the course are girls from cities and small towns who have finished high school near Dr Shroff‘s hospitals and centres. They receive a stipend while undergoing training, and spend four months studying and boarding at the base tertiary hospital in New Delhi.

This tends to be a cause for concern among parents, Arora conceded. “They’re initially worried about sending their daughters,” she said. Fears range from Delhi’s reputation as an unsafe city for women, to the quality of food the girls might get while boarding. But Arora said they generally vanish soon after parents and daughters visit the Delhi hospital to interview for the application. “Once they talk to other students, then they become quite confident,” she said.

From the city of Alwar in Rajasthan, Kunthi told the Indian Sun she wasn’t too concerned about moving to the big city. The 18-year-old said she took up training this year, with the ambition to “support my parents”. If she hadn’t joined the program she thinks she would have wound up a homemaker. “Most of my friends aren’t studying, they’re already married,” she said.

Later addressing a United Nation Conference in Delhi on child marriage, Stott Despoja called on more countries to consider investing in an ambassador for women and girls – Australia is one of just five countries that do, the others being Argentina, US, Seychelles and Norway.

Media quoted the Ambassador saying gender equality was now a central part of Australia’s foreign policy, and that a target had been set for 80% of foreign-aid development work to address gender equality.

During her visit to India, Stott Despoja also met India’s Union Minister of Women and Child Development Maneka Sanjay Gandhi. They discussed ways Australia can contribute towards gender empowerment in India, India’s Press Information Bureau reported. Maneka Gandhi also asked the Australian delegation to identify skills that could give women an edge to obtain employment.

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