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Regional Institute of Ophthalmology and Government Ophthalmic Hospital, Chennai

Regional Institute of Ophthalmology and Government Ophthalmic Hospital
Former names
Madras Eye Infirmary
Active 1819 (1819)–1850 (1850)

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The Regional Institute of Ophthalmology and Government Ophthalmic Hospital (commonly called Egmore Eye Hospital) Chennai, is the oldest[citation needed] eye hospital in the Indian subcontinent and in Asia. The institute was established in 1819 and is the second oldest hospital of its kind, next only to the Moorfield Eye Hospital in the United Kingdom.

The reputation of the hospital nurtures the tradition and devotion of eminent scholars, who have contributed to the field of ophthalmology while providing services to the needed.

Pioneering in the training of ophthalmologists, optometrists and paramedics who serve globally, the hospital is resourceful and delivers caring service to the patients. It is associated with the prestigious Government General Hospital and Madras Medical College, Chennai and is affiliated to the Tamil Nadu Dr. M.G.R. Medical University.


Early years

Known as Madras Eye Infirmary and founded in the summer of 1819 by Dr. R. Richardson, the Government Ophthalmic Hospital is the oldest eye hospital in the nation and one among the earliest in the world (second only to the Moorfields Eye Hospital, UK, estd. 1805).

In 1639, Andrew Cogan, chief of the East India Company negotiated with the local Governor of the Emperor of Vijayanagar, and bought a piece of land north of the Portuguese town, Santhome, to establish an office. On this land, Cogan and Francis Day built the now famous Fort St. George identifying the place as "Chennapapattinam", a name derived from the Chennakesava Perumal Temple that stood in the environs of the present fort.

From this stronghold, the entire region was gradually conquered and annexed to the property of East India Company. Concurrently, the company faced a situation in which the medical needs of the garrisons increased, compounded by the widespread infection and eye diseases.

The great prevalence of eye diseases among the soldiers and the general public prompted the Directors of the Company to consult with Dr. Benjamin Travers, the then surgeon for East India Company. He apprised them of the establishment of an Eye Infirmary in London (erstwhile Moorfields Hospital) for the treatment of eye diseases.

He advised the company to depute his disciple Dr. R. Richardson to Madras. Richardson, who had studied ophthalmology under Travers, founded the Madras Eye Infirmary in July 1819 at Royapettah (behind the Old Madras Club). In 1820 the infirmary was shifted to the site occupied by the Tram Shed in Egmore, (opposite the present day Dinathanthi Office).

A separate and dedicated hospital complex at the present site came into effect in March 1884 with three main separate blocks with an additional outpatient dispensary. Wards and blocks were built on as needed, which breathe even today in the lush greens

In March 1888, with public support the "Eye Infirmary" rechristened itself as the Government Ophthalmic Hospital and Lt. Col. Drake Brockman (1873–1894) served as the superintendent

Twentieth century

The hospital owes its present glory to Lt. Col. R. H. Elliot (superintendent from 1904–1913). He was an eminent ophthalmologist and visionary who assumed office as the superintendent in 1904. Elliot contributed greatly to the budding field of ophthalmology, notable of which is his design of sclerocorneal trephining, still considered by many as an innovative surgical procedure to treat chronic glaucoma. During this period the hospital grew distinctly, attracting numerous and distinguished visitors from the country and abroad. He envisaged and devised a plan to develop the teaching practice of the institute on an extensive scale while developing the infrastructure.

A gracious block named after Lady Lawley for Indians along with a European ward built in 1911 with later additions of the administration and septic blocks in 1914 came under Elliot's management. This stately building was, in 2006, declared as a Heritage Building by the Archaeological Department of India. Elliot's vision of starting a school for ophthalmology shaped up under the guidance of his successor Lt. Col. Kirkpatrik (1914–1920) who played a key role to construct a school of ophthalmology. Aptly named, "The Elliot School of Ophthalmology" functions even today.

For the first time in the history of India, in 1926, the hospital instituted the Licentiate Course in Ophthalmology and, ever since, several congregates of ophthalmologists have adorned the school.

An eminent ophthalmologist and a keen pathologist, Lt. Col. R. E. Wright (1920–1938), succeeded Kirkpatrick. He held the office for a record 18 years which has not been bettered. Wright conceived and created the "Museum of Elliot" housed in the School of Ophthalmology. Acclaimed as the finest,[citation needed] the museum pays tribute to ophthalmic world, reminiscing and reasoning its mellowness.

Just as the Indian force was gaining momentum in the liberation movements, Diwan Bahadur K. Koman Nayar (1940–1945) became the first Indian to hold the office of superintendent in 1940. An adept eye surgeon he oversaw the institution of the post-graduate diploma course in Ophthalmology for the first time in the country in 1942.


With the dawn of independence of the nation, a skilled eye surgeon and pathologist, Dr. R. E. S. Muthayya (1947–1956), assumed office heralding the usher of a new era. He envisaged and established India's first "Eye Bank" in the hospital, in October 1947, with the government's permission to collect eyes from deceased destitute people and use them to give sight to corneally blind persons. He stands credited to have performed the first corneal transplant surgery in India, in 1948. It was during his term that the present day programme of training in ophthalmology came into being. In 1949, the hospital introduced the Master degree in Ophthalmology with an intake of two candidates.

Two mobile ophthalmic units were started in 1957 to function with government support. It was actively involved in providing relief for eye ailments in the villages in a radius of 100 miles from each centre. Under the Second Five-Year Plan of the Government of India, a requisite to train an optometry support team saw the commencement of a School of Optometry in 1962. It was India's first diploma course in optometry with provision to train 30 students every year. Ever since, the school has been generating scores of optometrists who are delivering their service in India and abroad.

The National Programme for Control of Blindness in 1985 acknowledged the role played by the hospital in blindness eradication and upgraded the hospital to a "Regional Institute of Ophthalmology". The institute commenced its own departments of Biochemistry, Pathology, Microbiology and equipped itself with Fundus camera, advanced slit lamps, operating microscopes and laser facilities. The institute serves as an examination centre for International Council of Ophthalmologists.

Current day

With a matchless and privileged saga, the Regional Institute of Ophthalmology and Government Ophthalmic Hospital is currently a tertiary care teaching hospital, with traditional association to the prestigious Government General Hospital, Chennai and affiliation to the Tamilnadu Dr. MGR Medical University.

Famed as the Egmore Eye Hospital, it caters as a major ophthalmic centre to the region of Tamilnadu and Pondicherry offering a complete range of elective and emergency eye care services for the public from the region. It is well accessible to the poor and needy delivering 24-hour medical and para-medical service.

The hospital serves as the major regional centre proffering eye banking and eye donation service with a dedicated medical, paramedical team with complete resources available throughout the day and night.

The work of the hospital is focused on promoting eye health, creating awareness on prevention of eye diseases, screening services for children and public, management of common eye diseases including a round-the-clock management of eye injuries and trauma.

The hospital takes referrals from centres across the southern states of India, while regularly providing eye care services to the Government General Hospital, Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Institute of Child Health, Institute of Mental Health in Chennai.


Spread athwart the old Marshalls road the hospital possesses a bed strength of 478 with 50 exclusive beds in special wards and 428 for general public, with an average daily bed occupancy rate of 60%.

With a well-structured seven-unit organization, the hospital delivers outpatient care to an average of 1000 patients a day. The specialty units include:

  • Cornea, External Eye Diseases and Contact Lens
  • Glaucoma
  • Vitreo-Retina
  • Orbit and Oculoplasty
  • Uvea and Low Vision Aid
  • Strabismus/ Paediatric Ophthalmology / Neuro-Ophthalmology
  • Mobile Ophthalmic

The work of the ophthalmic team is supported by a talented team of non-clinical specialties including Microbiology, Pathology, and Bio-Chemistry departments.

With compassionate support from the Lions Club of Chennai District 324 A (an organized and separate eye bank that co-ordinates with the doctors, paramedical team and community support) workers ensure a 24-hour eye donation and eye banking service.

Training and courses

The training programme of the institute is recognised by the Royal College of the Ophthalmologists, UK, and two-year training in the institute is acknowledged and accepted as equivalent to Basic Specialist Training Programme in Ophthalmology of United Kingdom. It was the first institute in India to commence diploma in Ophthalmology (1942) and Master of Surgery in Ophthalmology (1949).

The institute serves as the examination centre for International Council of Ophthalmologists with the faculty present.

Training programmes offered include:


  • Undergraduate Medical Training
  • Postgraduate Medical Training: diploma in Ophthalmology, Master of Surgery in Ophthalmology, Diplomate in National Board
  • Research / PhD
  • Practising ophthalmologists: short-term fellowship courses are offered throughout the year

DipNB Courses

Short-term exam-oriented training for diploma in National Board Exams

The institute provides a comprehensive training for ten days every year in December for exam-going students with clinically oriented case presentations and discussion. For registrations contact


  • Optometry: diploma in Optometry
  • Nursing: training of diploma in Nursing, B. Sc (Nursing), and M. Sc. (Nursing) as a regular part of the nursing curriculum under the government of Tamil Nadu

See also

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External links