LRBT looking forward to widen eye care facilities

LRBT looking forward to widen eye care facilities

Interview with Mr. Najmus Saquib Hameed (T.I) — Honorary Chairman, LRBT

PAGE: Tell me something about yourself and LRBT, please:

Najmus Saquib Hameed: LRBT was established 35 years ago by two retiring CEOs, Graham Layton & Zaka Rahmatulla’ as a pay back to the country where they had been so successful. Shocked by the unnecessary misery caused by blindness which at that time was 1.8 % of the population with impaired vision being an additional 18%, they decided to focus on eye care especially as 90 % of blindness & impaired vision is curable.

The lack and accessibility of facilities and unaffordability of the treatment for the overwhelming majority who lived under the poverty line, was the main reason for this issue. The Mission that they adopted was a highly ambitious one: ensure that no man woman or child should go blind just because they cannot afford or access the treatment. Their dream was to have a network of hospitals spread all over the country where the poor would be provided free quality treatment. In 35 years LRBT has grown from a humble mobile unit to a network of 19 eye hospitals and 57 clinics spread all over the country. This network is located in such a way that 68 % of Pakistanis are within a 3 hour bus ride of a LRBT facility. LRBT focuses on those patients who live on the poverty line and for whom all treatment including surgery is free.

In our first year 1985/86 it treated 11,699 patients. This grew exponentially and in the year which ended in June 2021 2.7 million patients visited its facilities for treatment. It is now the largest provider of eye care in the Indian Pakistan subcontinent conducting 17 % of cataract (which is the major cause of blindness) surgeries: the closest to it is the Aravind group of hospitals in India which perform 5% of cataract surgeries in that country and LRBT is the only one which is totally free for the poor. LRBT is not just about volume. It measures itself against the WHO/ICEH benchmark of good quality cataract surgery and has this year surpassed it by 7 percentage points.

I joined LRBT in early 2004 after my retirement from the Chairmanship of a multinational. I had served in a number of countries including UK, the Middle East & of course Pakistan. I had made up mind earlier that I would volunteer for a charity post-retirement as a payback. I joined as Honorary Managing Trustee, moved on to the role of Honorary Vice Chairman & CEO and finally that of the Honorary Chairman in November 2014.These 17 years have been the most satisfying in my life. When I joined we had 9 eye hospitals which treated 970,000 patients annually. These have more than doubled & the number of patients treated free of cost have tripled to 2.7 million in 20/21.

PAGE: Could you tell us about the idea of the formation of LRBT?

Najmus Saquib Hameed: Our Founders selected eye care as the area of focus after a lot of deliberation. As mentioned above a significant chunk of our population was either blind or had impaired vision. They hailed predominantly from the poorest section of our society. At that time WHO published a study that said that Eye care was one of the most effective public health interventions as for a relatively small sum of money you can convert an individual who is a burden on the family into an active income generating member of society.

Apart from the main cities eye care facilities were sparse which resulted in a growing pool of blindness in towns and rural areas. Even in the main cities they were expensive and beyond the reach of those living below the poverty line. So they decided to focus exclusively on eye care and to locate LRBT’s hospitals & clinics in the poorest & most deprived areas lacking eye care facilities. The core values they embedded into the organization were:

  • All treatment should be free for the poor
  • Treatment should be appropriate state of the art. Charity should never mean second rate treatment
  • There should be no discrimination on the basis of language, religion, sect or gender
  • Patients should be treated with compassion & dignity

PAGE: What kind of hurdles you and your team went through in the initial years of LRBT?

Najmus Saquib Hameed: As I said I joined LRBT at the end 2014 by which time we had grown to 9 hospitals and were 900,000 patients were visiting them annually for treatment. The hurdles in the early years I was told were financial & availability of skilled ophthalmologists and paramedics. On finance we encouraged our well-wishers in UK to establish the Graham Layton Trust & in North America LRBT America. Later on LRBF Canada was also established. Partnerships were also established with International NGOs focusing on Eye care. Together they contribute 20% to our Total Revenue. After I joined we started a Zakat campaign during Ramzan which now contributes 37% to our Total Revenue. For getting skilled ophthalmologists we started postgraduate training programs at Korangi Tertiary Hospital & Lahore Township Tertiary Hospital and later Lahore Multan Road Tertiary Hospital which are now the largest training program for Ophthalmology in the country. They are currently 54 doctors in the program.

Some of these trainees continue with us after passing their Fellowship/Membership program. Others leave and join other hospitals thus adding to the pool of skilled specialists in eye care in Pakistan. We also opened a School of Ophthalmic Paramedicine at our Korangi Hospital in 2011, which has so far trained 420 Ophthalmic Technicians, Operating Theatre Technicians and Refractionists so far.

PAGE: How imperative is it to get government support in addition to the donations and zakat for the smooth functioning of LRBT?

Najmus Saquib Hameed: We are essentially supplying the service which Governments should provide but don’t, we fill the gap. Government grants only constitute 5% of our Total Revenue of which Sindh Government has the highest share (81%). As you will note from above we do not get much financial support from government. In other areas it is important as they are intervening more and more in NGO functioning which can delay speed of response.

PAGE: What changes could we witness at LRBT five years down the line?

Najmus Saquib Hameed: We are extending our footprint and planning to build an Eye hospital at Rahim Yar Khan offering much needed free eye care to a long neglected area. This will commence in January 2024. We will improving our patient services at our Mandra Eye Hospital by consolidating different departments which are now dispersed in a single building which will open August 2023. At Kalakillay we will be adding a new OPD Complex to ease patient pressure on facilities.

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