The goal is to eradicate corneal blindness by 2035.
For now, it seems too ambitious. But Tej Kohli believes it is possible.
For over ten years now, Kohli, an entrepreneur, technologist, and investor, has been dedicating a lot of his philanthropic work for the treatment of corneal blindness. He made his money through various e-commerce companies, real estate, and investments in deep tech. His Tej Kohli Foundation undertakes many programmes catered towards solving issues of poverty and giving a bright future for the underprivileged youth. Addressing the problem of corneal blindness is just one of them.
The ailment is known as “poverty blindness,” because it is a condition more commonly seen in underprivileged nations. Early detection is near impossible in these nations. It lacks treatment facilities and funding because it is considered a non-life threatening condition. Transplants are rare because there are very few donors, and they can be quite expensive. Yet, according to WHO, 7% of the world’s blindness is corneal blindness. This is a fairly large number once it is considered that many who suffer from this are breadwinners who need to stop fending for their family, causing their young children to pick up adult responsibilities.
A sight for the future
In 2010, Kohli, the UK-based self-made businessman, decided to invest in treatments for corneal blindness at the Niramaya Hospital in India, which set off a chain of programs in the course of the next decade for his mission to not just treat, but eradicate corneal blindness by 2035.
Kohli launched the Tej Kohli Cornea Institute in Hyderabad, India in 2015, which is both a research centre and treatment facility focused on the condition. From 2015 to 2019, they had over 200,000 outpatients and performed over 40,000 surgical procedures, and they also have outpatient services for those living in further communities. The institute is also looking into new techniques through big data to find localities where treatment must be prioritised, and artificial intelligence to better find ways to triage patients during early detection.
In 2019, Kohli, through his Foundation, donated $2 million to create the Tej Kohli Cornea Program in Massachusetts Eye and Ear, which is a teaching facility for Harvard Medical School. This program aims to produce further research for the early detection, prevention, and eventual eradication of corneal blindness.
Looking at success
These efforts may take years to see successful breakthroughs, so Kohli created an outreach program that brings doctors to patients living in far-flung remote areas. Together with Dr. SandukRuit, they set up the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation to perform these missions. Known as Nepal’s God of Sight, Dr. Ruit has found a cost-effective way to remove cataracts by creating small incisions and transplanting artificial lenses.
The program goes to villages in Nepal and performs these surgeries for free. Kohli intends on expanding this to other developing countries, such as Bangladesh, Syria, Rwanda, Lebanon, and Afghanistan.
Through these grassroots immediate efforts, as well as through large-scale, long-term research, TejKohli’s mission for eradicating corneal blindness might just be met by 2035.