Australian Friends of Vellore, Newsletter 2023

We hope this finds you well and excited about 2023! We, at Australian Vellore Board, and the state branches of the Friends of Vellore are planning activities and campaigns for 2023. We hope you will also find fulfilment through your partnership with us and find ways to be involved.

Who or what is CMC Vellore

Christian Medical College Vellore in Tamil Nadu, southern India, models itself on the healing ministry of Jesus Christ. It was started as a one-bedded clinic-cum-dispensary in 1900 by Dr Ida Sophia Scudder, the daughter of second-generation medical missionaries. The tragedies of maternal and infant mortality provoked Ida Scudder, to train in USA as a doctor and return to serve the people of India.

Today, this healthcare organisation of international repute includes a network of primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary care hospitals, with around 3000 beds spread across six campuses in and around Vellore, with one campus in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh.

CMC Vellore Highlights from 2022:

  • CMC Vellore has a new Director – Dr Vikram Mathews was appointed Director of CMC Vellore, succeeding Dr. J.V Peter who completed his 5-year term in September 2022. Dr Mathews entered CMC, Vellore as an as undergraduate student in 1985. He is a trained Haematologist.  Dr Mathews is married to Dr Urmi Ghosh, paediatrician at CMC Vellore. They have two children. The Australia Vellore Board congratulate Dr Mathews on his appointment and wish him and his team well during this tenure.
  • The Mobile Ophthalmic Unit was dedicated on the 24th of June 2022 in the presence of the CMC council members. Please see below for further news.
  • The much-awaited dedication of the CMC Vellore Ranipet Campus (formerly known as the Kannigapuram campus) took place in June 2022, officiated virtually by The Hon’ble Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Thiru MK Stalin, along with other government dignitaries and leaders from CMC. The campus is planned as a green campus with a Zero-Waste water discharge system equipped with sewage and effluent treatment plants. One third of the electrical demand load will be met through solar panels.
  • The hospital was used during the first two waves of the COVID pandemic to manage affected patients. Phase 1 of the project now includes 1500 beds that provide quaternary medical and surgical services. The facility is equipped with 35 operating theatres, 250 intensive care unit beds, cancer services, cardiac catheterization laboratories, 29 bone-marrow transplant unit beds, well-equipped blood storage and donor facility, 50 dialysis beds, high-end diagnostic and therapeutic radiology and state-of-the-art laboratories. It aims to provide comprehensive 24-hour emergency care, well supported by necessary services, for motor accident victims.
  • A 350-bed Paediatric Specialty Centre is planned as part of Phase 2. There is also a proposal to create a Research and Innovation Block to enhance institutional research capacity. 
  • A Da Vinci Xi – Surgical Robot for multi-disciplinary surgical use was installed in mid-June 2022 followed soon after by successfully completed robotic surgery. The robotic programme has been a success so far and CMC Vellore strives to run one of the most cost-efficient and high- volume robotic services in the country.

Has Australia played a role in the history of CMC?

Fifty years ago, India’s first kidney transplant was successfully done in CMC Vellore.Dr. Mohan Rao and Dr. K.V Johny trained in Adelaide with experts who had performed the first kidney transplant in Australia. The first Indian recipient was Mr. Shanmugam; the donor was his father.

Dr. Mohan Rao has recalled the excitement of that day and the challenges they faced doing the procedure. A second successful transplant was done three weeks later.

Where else has FOV Australia helped so far?

One example is Siloam.

India is set to emerge as the diabetic capital of the world. In 2000 there were 31.7 million diabetics in India and this number is estimated to rise to 79.4 million by 2030 – the largest number in any nation. Diabetic retinopathy can be blinding, and is a complication of uncontrolled diabetes mellitus, but can be prevented by strict blood sugar control, regular screening, and timely intervention.

CMC Vellore’s Department of Ophthalmology is dedicated to the screening, prevention, and treatment of diabetic retinopathy. Their outreach team reaches out to rural areas surrounding Vellore, screening those with diabetes who present for eye care, either using a fundus camera and teleophthalmology or by fundus examination. However, even though trained paramedics and optometrists can offer this service along with the ophthalmologist, the numbers they can screen by this method are low and confined to those presenting themselves. Completion of treatment may require several visits including referrals to CMC’s base hospital (Schell Eye Hospital).

Friends of Vellore Australia partnered with Friends of Vellore UK and the Vellore CMC Foundation (Friends of Vellore in the USA) to raise funds to buy a mobile ophthalmic unit. This unit, named “Siloam”, will address both issues of poor access, and follow up. It will make screening accessible to much larger numbers and enable laser treatment in the field for those requiring it. The mobile ophthalmic unit is seen not just serving the peripheral clinics but travelling to cover populations with poor access within Vellore and the neighbouring districts as well. Apart from diabetic retinopathy screening and treatment, the mobile unit will be used for screening for all eye disease in children and adults in areas with poor access. The first outreach clinic was held on September the 9, 2022, after a planning meeting with community stakeholders. So far, the clinic has picked up patients with sight threatening diabetic retinopathy and undiagnosed glaucoma, some of whom received laser treatment on site.

The ongoing need for this department arises when needy patients with diabetic retinopathy need extensive surgery in the base hospital: this can cost up to $1900.00 per patient. This procedure is often needed for young diabetic patients who have lost their jobs from blindness. The cost includes rehabilitating them. While CBM provides some funding, most of the funding needs to come from donors.

What current opportunities are there to help?

One area of need is Palliative Care

CMC Vellore was determined that the healing ministry should extend to terminally ill people, beyond medical support yet needing compassionate care and love at the end of the end of their lives. So, with the help of FOV’s from different countries, they established a Palliative Care Centre in 2004. The department sees between 400-450 patients each month in outpatients and runs a Home Care Programme (started in 2003), making approximately 150 home visits a year. Patients are provided with necessary treatment, whist their family and community are guided in how best to support them, including supporting the psychosocial and spiritual needs of the patient and family. Many of the patients are very poor, and the nature of their illness often causes prejudice.

A contribution to Palliative Care will ensure that a terminally ill patient and their family are supported, including social rehabilitation for the family and small grants for income generating schemes. The department is looking to promote palliative care practice and knowledge in Vellore and the surrounds.

The Australia Vellore Board has recently contributed $7500 each for drug subsidy and social rehabilitation. 

Another area to help is The Person-to-Person Program

This scheme funds treatment for patients unable to pay their medical bills at CMC Vellore. For over 50 years, donors, patients, doctors & nurses at CMC Vellore have contributed to and benefited from the Person-to-Person (PTP) scheme.  The PTP began in the 1970s to provide good healthcare at an affordable cost for poor patients. Despite CMC working hard to minimise treatment costs, some patients are still not able to afford treatment. Often this treatment is critical and lifesaving.

The Person to Person (PTP) scheme provides an opportunity to contribute to the cost of a specific patient’s care. Every year, PTP links donors from around the world to deserving and financially burdened patients; around 2000 patients are supported every year. When a donor donates to PTP, CMC matches the gift by 4 times the amount to help the patient. A gift of $35/- will sponsor a patient’s stay at CMC Vellore for one day. The PTP scheme is organised and implemented within the hospital. Medical or nursing staff or social workers identify patients; CMC bears the cost of administering the programme, so every cent given goes directly to help poor patients. Each month, CMC sends a report by email to the donors who contributed that month, including a patient impact story. Postal reports can be sent to supporters who don’t have email.

Besides a commitment to patient care, CMC Vellore has a strong focus on empowering people through education. Student Scholarships are another way to help the deserving at CMC Vellore! Each year, many students from underprivileged homes and communities are given the opportunity to study at CMC Vellore. Several of them would not have been able to avail of this opportunity had they not received a scholarship. Scholarships are needed mainly for Nursing and Allied Health Science Students. The need to support students has increased especially after COVID because some breadwinners lost their jobs and others lost their lives.

Students of Allied Health Sciences are greatly benefitted by faithful donors who support scholarships in CMC. Every gift for a student is an investment; $ 1300/- provides a full academic scholarship for one year. The impact of any contribution to education will be multiplied many-fold in the future. During the current academic year, fifteen students each in nursing and allied health courses have received financial assistance from Australia Vellore Board.

The nitty gritty!

The Australia Vellore Board has regular virtual and in person meetings to discuss and plan functioning. We held our last AGM in Brisbane in October 2022. The board is in the process of planning an information brochure and designing a new website. Income for AVB during the financial year 2021-22 was $241,657/-. We transferred $250,000/- to CMC Vellore in December 2022 (we had some funds from 2021-2022 to make up the amount). We would like to thank everyone of you, our support base, and donors, for your generosity. We would not have been able to do any of this without you. Board expenses are kept to a minimum and all office bearers are in honorary roles.

If you would like to know more about the functioning of the state branches of Friends of Vellore, please get in touch with us, so we can put you in contact with the relevant branch.

Sharon Thomas


March 2023