An estimated 39 million people around the world are blind. Yet as many as four out of five of these cases are preventable or treatable, mainly through cataract surgery or vitamin A supplements.
This is a big challenge for global health advocates — which makes it just the right size for Luxme Hariharan BS2004, MD2009.
An accomplished researcher and advocate, Hariharan has a passion for international health that is deeply rooted in her own background. Born in Hyderabad, India, she grew up in Nairobi, Kenya; Iowa; and eventually, Wisconsin. As part of UW’s competitive medical scholar program, she majored in Caribbean studies and biology, and during her senior year, she studied abroad in the Dominican Republic and Haiti to research childhood malnutrition.
“My grandmother often told me stories of growing up in poor, rural Indian villages, because her father was a government doctor who believed that ‘from those to whom much is given, much is to be expected,’” she says. Her grandmother’s words have become the mantra of her career.
In medical school, Hariharan met Suresh Chandra, the UW ophthalmology professor who founded Combat Blindness International (CBI), a non-profit that provides free eye care to more than a dozen communities around the world, with a special interest in serving remote, impoverished villages.
From The Park
I will work to make sure that every child, wherever they may be in the world, has an opportunity to develop their full visual potential.
Source: Used by permission of copyright holder.
Hariharan helped to establish CBI’s presence in Mysuru (formerly Mysore), India. “I will never forget witnessing the relief of a mother after we gave her son vitamin A, and the wonder of a man who received free cataract surgery and exclaimed, ‘Now I can finally see what my granddaughter looks like,’” she says. Since 2006, the CBI Mysuru project has sponsored thousands of free cataract surgeries and screened hundreds of children in neighboring villages.
The experience helped Hariharan to realize that a specialization in ophthalmology would allow her to make a substantial contribution to global health, and she has never looked back. She’s now a fellow at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where she continues to work tirelessly to improve healthcare for children around the world.
“I truly believe in public service and advocating for underserved and underprivileged communities — especially our children,” she says.
In addition to coordinating projects on four continents, Hariharan regularly participates on committees to encourage women to pursue careers in health care and on task forces to improve Latino and immigrant health in the United States. She speaks Spanish, Tamil, Hindi, and French.
In 2014, Chandra invited Hariharan to join the CBI board. “It is wonderful to be able to come full-circle and now help to develop pediatric blindness prevention initiatives through CBI,” she says. “I am excited to work with the committed board and CBI family throughout the globe with the common mission of ending preventable causes of blindness worldwide.”
Working around the world
Dr. Luxme Hariharan has worked in communities around the world to improve children’s health. Here are a few of her projects so far:
- Niger: Hariharan won an award to set up a blindness-screening program. She also conducted fieldwork on face washing and coordinated with the Ministry of Health and UNICEF on blindness prevention.
- San Salvador, El Salvardor and Buenos Aires, Argentina: Hariharan worked with the Ministries of Health and UNICEF to develop childhood blindness prevention programs.
- Switzerland: While still in medical school, Hariharan became one of 12 Americans to serve as a global health fellow at the World Health Organization in Geneva, where she focused on global tobacco control and policy.
- Dominican Republic and Haiti: As an undergraduate, Hariharan moved abroad to research and develop child nutrition programs, an experience that fostered her interest in international health.
- Madison, Wisconsin: As a medical student, Hariharan conducted community eye screenings, organized free health fairs, and participated in tobacco regulation projects.
- Baltimore, Maryland: While completing a master’s degree in public health at Johns Hopkins, Hariharan mentored at-risk youth and cofounded a group to teach young women in developing countries about careers in health care.
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: As a resident at the University of Pennsylvania, Hariharan worked with clinics that served primarily Latino and Haitian patients. She organized free eye exams, healthy-weight programs, and other screenings.
- New York: While completing an internship at the State University of New York, Hariharan developed health workshops for black and Latino youth in Harlem.
- Mysuru, India: Hariharan helped to establish Combat Blindness International’s presence in the city and initiated vision-screening programs in surrounding villages.
- Southern India: Hariharan is currently collaborating with doctors from the Aravind Eye Care System to advocate for new eye-care centers.