In Focus: Dr Sucheta Kulkarni

The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust was set up in 2012 to create a lasting legacy for Her Majesty The Queen across the Commonwealth.

The Trust has joined the global movement to end avoidable blindness. We are working to combat three major avoidable causes of blindness in the Commonwealth and to strengthen the eye healthcare sector, which would not be possible without the support of our partners and inspiring individuals.

This month, we focus on the work of Dr Sucheta Kulkarni, an ophthalmologist from Pune, western India, who is working to combat retinopathy of prematurity in India.

Sucheta is a scholar of the Commonwealth Eye Health Consortium, a programme that was established by the Trust to provide fellowships, research and technology to strengthen eye care across the Commonwealth. It was through the Commonwealth Eye Health Consortium, that Sucheta was able to do an MSc at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.  

Working clinically, Sucheta was the Head of the Department of Retina and retinopathy of prematurity services at Pune district hospital when she decided she wanted to improve the services her team offered. “Doing good quality clinical work is not enough”, she admitted, “spreading the knowledge you have to a large number of service providers is the only way to improve the eye health of the population.”

Sucheta hoped her MSc in Public Health, would allow her to develop her research skills and generate useful evidence for service providers that would ultimately have an impact on blindness prevention.

More specifically, Sucheta was inspired to improve the services for babies at risk of retinopathy of prematurity, a condition which, if untreated, can cause premature babies to lose their vision. It is the leading cause of childhood blindness and is of particular concern in India, which has the highest number of preterm births in the world.

“Understanding the prime reasons for blinding retinopathy of prematurity in India would give insights into the points of failure in the health system”, explained Sucheta.  Her study tried to examine the reasons for late presentations of the disease – including the socioeconomic backgrounds of the parents – and the impact of having a blind child on the family. These insights, she hoped, would allow her to make recommendations to establish better services for those affected by the disease and could also be used as a powerful tool in advocacy.    

On completing the course, Sucheta said that it has been “one of the greatest learning experiences of my professional life. I learnt how to apply critical thinking to my work; I am much better organised now and know what we need to do as a team to have an impact… I have clear ideas about how to improve our service delivery, how to improve our training programmes and how to do research, all of which I hope can benefit my country.”