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The eye surgeon for the poor

Health & Science - By Standard Digital | April 10th 2011 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

By Augustine Oduor

You probably have never heard of this Indian eye surgeon but for the past 31 years, the 70-year-old has helped Kenyan patients.

SK Savla, a consulting eye surgeon, lens implant and contact lens specialist, has spent almost half of his lifetime making annual trips to Kenya in April to do what he calls "solving human problems for the poor".

To date, he has performed eye surgeries on about 20,000, Kenyans, young and old, to restore their sight.

Dr Savla has been holding free eye clinics in Kenya for the last 31 years.

His unwavering commitment has seen him meet the top leadership, including President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

In 1984, former President Moi, invited him to State House in appreciation of the good work he was doing.

"He thanked me and my wife for offering eye services to poor Kenyans. He told me that even if nobody appreciates my efforts God would. I was so touched and made a commitment to return to the country every year," he said

Dr Savla says seeing the blind regain their sight fulfils him. "Money is not everything. But if you help people you feel fulfilled and God gives you more strength to continue doing the same," he said.

When The Standard On Sunday met him during the opening of this year’s eye, ear, nose and throat treatment camp in Thika High school, last week, he was performing surgeries, as his wife stood by him. About 500 eye patients were awaiting surgery. A team of Indian doctors had screened the patients from Eastern, Western and Nyanza provinces.

Shanket Shah of Shree Jain Youth League, the organisers of the event, said the exercise lasted one week. "After screening them, we bring them here and provide them with free accommodation until they are operated on. The cost is often huge but this year, Ashok Shah and Chuni Shah of Abacus Group sponsored the event," he said.

In 1983, Salva performed about 778 eye operations in three weeks in Nakuru. The patients were drawn from Rift Valley and the surrounding areas.

Humbling experience

"There was a huge crowd of patients and together with my team of doctors, we operated all the patients who needed the procedure," he said.

Delighted by the relief he accorded the various eye patients, he visits the country every April to treat patients. He pitched his first eye clinic tent in April 1980 at Mangu High School, where he performed 447 operations.

"When I was invited over, I was touched by many poor Kenyans who were in danger of becoming blind because they could not afford eye care. I found there was a greater need to assist them," he said.

Trained at the Grand Medical College in Bombay India, he said he fell in love with charity just after his graduation in 1970.

"After graduation I started practising in Bombay, now Mumbai. The experience was humbling," he said.

"The rich do not know how it feels to be poor. This is what pushed me to offer my services. Eye operations are expensive and those who cannot afford it are in danger of losing their sight," he said.

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