[AI] Subsidy crisis hits blindness control programme in State

Pradeep banakar pradeepsocialwork at gmail.com
Tue Apr 15 12:22:31 EDT 2008

The Hindu : Tuesday, Apr 15, 2008

Subsidy crisis hits blindness control programme in State 
S. Vijay Kumar and Shastry V. Mallady 
Subsidy not disbursed since 2003
State willing to give only Rs. 350 instead of Rs. 750
MADURAI: The ambitious National Programme for Control of Blindness under the National Rural Health Mission has run into problems in Tamil Nadu. 
Subsidy at the rate of Rs. 750 per free cataract surgery has not been disbursed to NGO hospitals participating in the programme since 2003, and the arrears
now run to crores of rupees. 
To the Madurai-based Aravind Eye Hospitals alone, the government owes Rs. 11 crore for performing thousands of free surgeries over the last five years.
Tired of representing to the authorities, the hospitals, which undertake at least 70 per cent of all the free cataract surgeries done in Tamil Nadu, have
formed the 'Forum of Tamil Nadu NGO Eye Hospitals' to sort out the issue. 
It wants the subsidy arrears of more than Rs. 31 crore to be disbursed and has taken up the problem at various levels. 
At its request, former Central Bureau of Investigation Director D.R. Kaarthikeyan took up the issue with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who promised early
action. The Union Health Ministry was apprised of the situation. "We have also represented to Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, who has promised to look into
the matter," says P. Namperumalsamy, Chairman, Aravind Eye Hospital. 
Forum president R.D. Thulasiraj said the government was planning to disburse only Rs. 350 per free cataract surgery done, instead of Rs. 750. "On an average,
the cost of each cataract surgery works out to Rs. 1,500. While the Centrally funded programme provides for Rs. 750, the Government of Tamil Nadu wants
to give only Rs. 350 out of it." He said the programme is being successfully implemented in the rest of the country. 
"We do not want to stop this service as a majority of those who benefit from the programme belong to the below poverty line category. Even if the government
does not give any money, we will continue with the free surgeries. Eradicating preventable blindness is our mission," says Dr. Namperumalsamy.
NGO hospitals claimed that they were being prevented from conducting free eye camps and select patients for free cataract surgery. Recently, district blindness
control officials sent telegrams at the last minute asking the Aravind Eye Hospital not to conduct eye camps planned in Nagapattinam and Virudhunagar districts.

Funds required 
When contacted, Health Secretary V.K. Subburaj said additional funds were required as the State performed a large number of free cataract surgeries through
different agencies.
"Besides the usual allocation, we have sought money from the Centre. Last week, the State government received a part of the allocation and it will be disbursed
in 10 days," he said without elaborating on the quantum of funds received.

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