Connecting the villages

Mandayan is a farmer in Padinettankudi, a poor rural village in the
south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. For months he has been suffering from
watery eyes and blurred vision. Today he has come into the thatched hut
behind the village tea stall to seek help, not at a doctor's surgery,
but at what has become the village internet kiosk.

The young local woman who runs the kiosk switches on a webcam. The
computer whirrs on the desk beside her as she carefully takes pictures
of Mandayan's eyes and records his symptoms, using an online patient

She then sends the pictures and voice recording to the world-famous
Aravind Eye Hospital in the city of Madurai, 40 km away. What would have
taken days or weeks by post is achieved instantly, by e-mail.

Online doctor

An eye specialist calls back for an online chat with Mandayan. They
discuss his symptoms and the doctor gives him an appointment at the
hospital the following week, where he can get free treatment.

Mandayan is thrilled. Most of the villagers in Padinettankudi have never
been to a hospital or even spoken to a doctor before.

The Padinettankudi kiosk is one of 30 launched in the district over the
past year by n-Logue, a commercial offshoot of the prestigious Madras
Indian Institute of Technology, and the company has ambitious plans to
wire up the rest of rural India within 10 years.

Each kiosk is run by a local entrepreneur and provides a wide range of
services such as farming advice, applications for government loans and
e-mail, all at an affordable cost of a few rupees.

Global reach

For villages like Padinettankudi, which have no public telephones and
where many people are illiterate, the internet kiosk has become their
means of communicating with the outside world, and the link to the
Aravind Eye Hospital is one of the most exciting recent developments.

Founded over 25 years ago by Dr G Venkatasamy, the hospital runs the
biggest community eye programme in the world, treating over a million
patients each year. It does cataract operations, provides glasses and
any other necessary treatment free of charge to anyone who needs it.

But the problem lies in reaching all the people that need eye care, and
that is where the new technology is proving its worth.

The Aravind Eye Hospital is the first hospital in Madurai to introduce
telemedicine to the villages and its medical staff are already
benefiting from the global reach of the internet.

Exciting potential

They discuss new medical information with other eye experts and can even
watch operations in Boston or London, so enabling them to bring the
latest knowledge to their patients.

Dr Venkatasamy is fully aware of the huge potential of the internet for
reaching the millions of people in rural India who are needlessly blind,
and his vision goes beyond simply restoring sight.

"This is very exciting, because poor people need not be poor. If a man
recovers his sight and earns even a dollar a day, that means six million
people recovering their sight each year could be earning 6 million
dollars a day," he says.

"Imagine what a huge difference that could make to the economy of the

Ashish Kotamkar ([EMAIL PROTECTED])
Mithi Software Technologies Pvt. Ltd.
302, Mayfair Court,
Dr. Pai Marg, Baner Road,
Pune 411 045. India.
Tel: +91-20-729 3259/58
Fax: +91-20-729 3260

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