Think eye treatment and one of the first names that came to mind for a few decades for Hyderabadis was Dr Perugu Siva Reddy. He was one of the first celebrity doctors from the city who managed to remain in public domain constantly with his activities and associations.
Mention eye camps and mass screenings for sight, again, you cannot miss the role of Dr Siva Reddy in popularising this practise in the erstwhile United Andhra Pradesh from the 1970s. Today, it’s a routine exercise, as India stares at a huge burden of avoidable blindness and vision problems..
Again, as the popular Festival of Lights and crackers, Diwali approaches, Dr Siva Reddy would come up with the precautions to be taken and many media outlets would carry. He donned multiple roles and made a mark. Dr Siva Reddy, the late Ophthalmologist of repute completed 100 this September 12. He passed away in September 2005
SD Eye Hospital and high connections
Dr Siva Reddy is the founder and director of the Sarojini Devi Eye Hospital in Hyderabad which was started around 1967. He is credited with establishing the first eye bank in the country in 1964 named T L Kapadia Eye Bank.
Dr Siva Reddy was appointed Honorary Surgeon to President V V Giri in 1969-70, in which capacity he served for 25 years, with successive Presidents, including Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, with whom he was quite closely associated. He was also honorary eye surgeon to the successive Governor’s of Andhra Pradesh for decades.
He served the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, AP Akademi of Sciences etc. as Chairman and President respectively in Hyd.
Events and controversies
During his tenure, events at the SD Eye Hospital, including scientific conferences were held on a festive scale. The stage used to be decked up in grand style, elaborate welcome and honouring of the guests (sometime reaching embarrassing scale) with huge garlands, generous praise would follow. As a young reporter with the PTI, covering the science beat, I ended up at most of these meetings.
The staple would be the presence of a couple of distinguished NRIs, foreigners and a large number of medical students and doctors from the city. Dr Siva Reddy would do the master of ceremony role and also talk highly of the guests. A couple of interviews of the guests and the inaugural function was all the news that we could get. Rest was sessions, cultural events and self praise.
Dr Reddy’s connections in high places, global and reputation brought lot of attention to SD Eye Hospital and Eye specialists. However, it landed in controversies too.
Who can forget the case of baby Nasreen Banu? It happened way back in 1980, but the story lingers on. Doctors operated on the wrong eye of the child, who was suffering a cancerous growth in one of her eyes, leading to blindness. The incident created a furore and the Union Government was forced to send Nasreen Banu to the United States for treatment at its expense, where the other cancerous eye was operated and removed.
Another instance is the operation done to rectify vision that Dr Reddy pioneered during the 1980s in the country with a few others. It was called Radial Keratotomy. With training from the then Soviet Union and armed with a diamond knife, Dr Reddy carried out scores of surgeries on youngsters, especially girls promising easy and permanent correction of vision defects and avoiding spectacles.
Vision impairment had many problems for youth, especially girls ranging from career to marriage prospects during that period. So, many parents for the sake of their teenager children opted for the surgery. It was in short: making incisions on the Cornea with the Diamond Knife, which helped correct the vision. However, instances of recurrence of the problem started surfacing in many cases. With the help of Dr P Ranga Reddy, who was Superintendant, I could put out a story through PTI that the success rate was not justifiable to carry on further with the procedure. In fact, Dr Ranga Reddy acknowledged that the Hospital had put on hold the surgery till more improvements were made. Interestingly, though Dr Siva Reddy faced lot of flak, he was frank enough to state that the procedure was being improved.
When one talks of mass screening for ailments, especially eye related, one cannot but remember Dr Reddy. He was among the pioneers. During the 1970s, with a band of dedicated young doctors from S D Eye hospital, he would go to a village, set up a camp and the team would carry out a few hundred examinations of the poor and children and recommend or provide spectacles. Sometimes, cataract surgeries too were done. He is credited to have organised about 500 eye camps and done record number of cataract operations. Dr Reddy enjoyed the backing of the successive Governments as well as NGOs, who sometimes joined hands. However, the occasional criticism of lack of follow up and the consequent hardships for patients were too not uncommon.
Later or concurrently, Lions & Rotary pitched in. So did doctors like Vempati Suryanarayana, Dr Yusuf Hussain Arasthu, Sadhuram Eye Hospital etc. post 1990s with the establishment of LV Prasad Eye Institute and many trainee Opthalmologists eyecare began improving in Hyderabad. The LVPEI has a massive programme on blindness prevention.
The India Vision Institute (IVI) too has with the help of multinational eyecare majors like Essilor, Luxottica, Cooper Vision and etc. organised screening programmes for school children and provided spectacles. In 2019, the Telangana Government under, K Chandrasekhar Rao announced the launch of ‘Kanti Velugu’, a state sponsored programme to screen and help the poor and needy in eye health.
Dr Siva Reddy, post his tenure with the SD Eye Hospital, established a full-fledged eyecare centre in Himayathnagar and continued to practise. He donned the role of a president of the Andhra Pradesh Akademi of Sciences for some years. He was also the Chairman of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, where he played an important role in increasing its activities and establishment of the spacious school in Jubilee Hills.
A recipient of Padma Bhushan honour in 1977, Dr Reddy also won the Prestigious BC Roy Award. He presented about 200 papers in international conferences. The State government honoured him by naming the eye hospital established in Kurnool in 1990 after him.
Somasekhar Mulugu, former Associate Editor & Chief of Bureau of The Hindu BusinessLine, is a well-known political, business and science writer and analyst based in Hyderabad.