The Subramania Sharma Memorial Eye Research Foundation (SSM Eye Research Foundation) was founded in memory of one such visionary – Sri Ayalur Harihara Iyer Subramania Sharma. For Dr. A. Giridhar, it was not a difficult choice of name for a Trust he established with the primary aim of reaching out to the less privileged with the objective of eradication of avoidable blindness. His grandfather was a towering personality whose values and spirit were in sync with those of the charitable organisation in his name that has touched a great number of lives in the past 12 years.
Shri Subramania Sharma lived in an age when agriculture was considered a profitable profession, and Gandhiji’s words “India lives in her villages” still held true. He was born a good 13 years before the Mahatma wrote that inspired line in an essay in 1921. After completing his school education from the Nenmara Government High School, near his native village of Ayalur, Sharma did his intermediate from the Maharaja’s College, Ernakulam. Ayalur, 25 km off Palakkad town, was known for its temples and colourful festivals, but Sharma was drawn to one particular colour – green. Not really surprising because Palakkad, along with Kuttanad, was known for its paddy cultivation till the workforce disappeared, making agriculture cost-intensive. Sharma enrolled at the Agricultural College and Research Institute in Coimbatore, one of the oldest agricultural education institutes in India when the institute started a bachelor’s degree in agriculture in the 1920s. Upon graduation, he entered the agricultural service of the Madras Presidency as a demonstrator, and by the time he retired in 1962, he was Professor of Agronomy and Director of Agriculture.
He inspired generations of agriculture students, but one of his biggest contributions in the field was not academic. Sharma, along with his father, pioneered rubber cultivation in the Nelliampathy Hills in Palakkad. Today, rubber is one of the major cash crops of Kerala. Till his death in 1989 of natural causes, Sharma was very active in the Planters’ Association, and always went out of his way to help people in need. He was a generous philanthropist and helped many in employment, education and religious functions. He died in the year 1989, at Coimbatore. Thus, it was only fitting that a charity to assist the less privileged bear the name of Shri Subramania Sharma. Started in 2005, the SSM Foundation (operated by Giridhar Eye Institute) has been focusing on community interventions among populations with poor access to eye care. Identifying the target population, screening, diagnosis, investigations, management and awareness creation have been identified as the six main stages of community ophthalmic care.
Quietly and with minimum publicity, the Trust has been doing pioneering work not only by way of conventional screening programs but also by collating data from the target population through extensive and continuous surveys and by training of healthcare professionals throughout the state. With increased prosperity come related ills and Kerala – a state scoring very high on positive social indices – has fallen prey to lifestyle diseases like diabetes, hypertension and age-related degenerative conditions. The number of elderly individuals is set to increase in the state because of negative population growth. These combined factors have raised fears of eye diseases and avoidable blindness cases further rising in the changing scenario.
These are but a few of the community initiatives pioneered by the SSM Foundation and GEI to realise the goal of effective community intervention in the area of eye care. Over 100 eye screening camps have been conducted in a year under the SSM Foundation and Giridhar Eye Hospital’s community outreach programme and over 1000 free cataract surgeries are performed in a year.