CHENNAI: The Government Ophthalmology Hospital in Egmore, the second oldest eye hospital in the World after the Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, speaks volume about evolution of public health care system in India during the British period. As the hospital is set to step into a 200th year, Express takes a look at the history of the hospital, which was established in 1819.
Started as the Madras Eye Infirmary in July 1819 in Royapettah near the Old Madras Club, it was then shifted to the site occupied by the Tramshed in Egmore due to want of space in 1820. In 1884, the hospital complex was shifted to its present location, which was then called Marshall’s Road. Dr E F Drake Brockman (superintendent, 1873-1894) chose the site and laid the foundation stone for the hospital. In 1888, the infirmary was rechristened as Government Ophthalmic Hospital, according to the hospital records.
Dr R Richardson, one of the East India company’s surgeons is the founder and first superintendent of the hospital. A book titled “The history of Moorfields Eye Hospital volume I “ written by Edward Treacher Collins (first published in 1929) has mentioned in it as “Followed establishment of the Eye Infirmary in London, and that similar institutions might be started in India.
This advice was accepted and R Richardson, one of the company’s surgeons who had studied Ophthalmology under Dr Travers (surgeon in London to the East India Company in 1819) and was sent to Madras, where he founded “The Madras Eye Infirmary”.
“The hospital was started with a small out-patient facility block at the present site. The oldest block is Lady Lawley block. It was inaugurated by Lady Lawley in 13 February 1911. It was declared as a heritage building in 2007,” says Dr P S Maheswari, Director and Superintendent of the hospital.
The Elliot’s museum, one of the first eye museums in Asia, was set up in 1921 in the premises and is proof of the treatment facilities and diagnosis provided during the pre-independence period.
The museum houses the rare collection of antique Ophthalmic Instruments, pictures, paintings, visitors book of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Also images of the patients drawn by the artists at the hospital for doctors to have a visual representation of the patients. There are also slides of various eye diseases diagnosed at the hospital, books and records, manuscripts written by superintendents and handwritten case sheets of 19th and the early 20th century that highlight the Britishers’ contribution to the public health care system.
The hospital was elevated to the level of Regional Institute of Ophthalmology in 1985 under the National Programme for Control of Blindness. Currently, the institution is a 478 bedded hospital with modern equipment, four air-conditioned theatres, two minor operation theatres and 24 hours casualty services.
● In 1926, Licentiate course in Ophthalmology was started for the first time in India.
● The first Eye Band in India started in 1948 during the tenure of Dr R E S Muthayya, Superintendent in 1947.
● Post Graduate degree MS Ophthalmology was instituted in 1949.
● In 1960 Shawfield, the premises opposite to the old building was acquired for further expansion of the hospital.
● In 1962, the school of optometry was established.
● In 1972 the mobile ophthalmic scheme was reinforced along with another mobile ophthalmic unit.
● A school of Ophthalmology was constructed at a cost of INR 93,120 and the construction was completed at the end on 1919. The block was named the school of Ophthalmology and was inaugurated on February 16, 1920.
● The institute has been recognised as an examination centre for the International Council of Ophthalmology.
● Every year 12 postgraduates and 18 diploma students train here.
● Eye bank help to perform 250 to 300 corneal transplants every year.
● Glaucoma clinic functioning for the past three decades.
● The Institute is a tertiary care centre that receives patients from all over Tamil Nadu, and from neighbouring states like Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.