India: Reviving hospitals, a healthy mission

The Joseph Eye Hospital is a Tamil Evangelical Lutheran Church Lutheran mission hospital. Photo: JEH
The Joseph Eye Hospital is a Tamil Evangelical Lutheran Church Lutheran mission hospital. Photo: JEH

Voices from the communion: Dr Arunkumar Akilan

(LWI) - The sight of the dilapidated hospital never left Dr Arunkumar Akilan’s memory. The son of a Lutheran pastor and a member of The Tamil Evangelical Lutheran Church (TELC) Akilan vowed to help the sick by making hospitals healthy. 

After completing his studies in physics, and remembering the rundown hospital from his youth, Akilan changed the course of his profession and is now the administrator and quality coordinator of Joseph Eye Hospital (JEH) in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu.

Akilan talks about TELC’s mission to revitalize Lutheran mission hospitals in India, his faith, the specialized work of the Lutheran eye hospital and its mission to “make people see.”

What was your journey to hospital administration and reviving hospitals?

One day, when I was younger, I visited a hospital with my father, the Danish Mission Hospital that belongs to the Arcot Lutheran Church (ALC). The hospital was in such disrepair that I vowed, if possible, I should do something in my life toward this mission of revitalizing hospitals.

Moved by this, I decided to study hospital administration which was an unknown career path at the time. I was thankful to receive a scholarship from The Lutheran World Federation through the ALC. When I finished my studies, I returned to the church and began a 20-year career at Joseph Eye Hospital. I have been used as an instrument in God’s hands in the revival and reopening of two mission hospitals and hope to see another three revived in my lifetime.

As a physicist and a hospital administrator, I could have earned more from the private sector but what I have become as a person and in my work is because of my church. I want to give myself back to the church. I feel that God has called me to work for Lutheran hospitals.

What is the mission of JEH?

Our mission is improving the quality of life for people through comprehensive, affordable and sustainable health programs.

One of our philosophies is that we strive to revive Christian hospitals so that we can succeed in the mission of improving lives through these hospitals.

The eye hospital plans to revive another Lutheran hospital, in the near future.

JEH is a 150-bed hospital with five satellite branches throughout India and functions as a teaching hospital, training medical and paramedical staff from around the world; this helps us fulfill our goal of sustainable health programs, not just in India but worldwide.

While many mission hospitals in India succumb to the challenge of sustainability, JEH received national accreditation for its quality services. We proved that high-quality healthcare can be affordable.


Dr Arunkumar Akilan administrator of the Joseph Eye Hospital says he, along with the UELCI are dedicated to opening closed Lutheran mission hospitals in India. Photo: JEH

What is the history between the eye hospital and LWF?

JEH has a long relationship with LWF dating back to the 1970s when LWF supported the construction of a chapel in the hospital. Even at the programmatic levels, the hospital coordinates with LWF and the United Evangelical Lutheran Churches in India (UELCI) as a partner in programs such as community health work, rehabilitation, HIV and AIDS and *Inclusive Health.

I have a personal history with the LWF, as well. From 2000-2003, I participated in the LWF’s international youth program, "Transformation Through Participation," which groomed me for leadership.

Joseph Eye Hospital has a rehabilitation home for the blind. Tell me about the center?

The Bishop Diehl Rehabilitation Home (BDRH) serves not only the blind, but all people with disabilities.

The home was established in 1967 by the founder of JEH in commemoration of the former bishop of TELC, Bishop Diehl. The rehabilitation home offers people with disabilities comprehensive rehabilitation such as post-surgery support, physiotherapy, provision of artificial limbs, social support groups, and job skills and reintroduction into the job market.

Does the eye hospital test for and treat COVID-19 patients?

Yes. The symptoms of Coronavirus normally mentioned are fever, dry cough and breathing difficulties, but rarely is red eye mentioned as a symptom of Coronavirus. If someone comes into the hospital with red eye, they usually test positive with Coronavirus.

The Swedish Mission Hospital, a branch of Joseph Eye Hospital, dedicates 25 beds for COVID-19 patients and, with the rise of positive COVID-19 cases in India, the Swedish Mission Hospital now operates as a screening and observation facility for COVID-19 patients.

What happened to the dilapidated hospital that inspired you in your youth?

That hospital is surviving but it needs repair. I’m happy to say that there are signs of hope and the hospital is on the UELCI health forum list of hospitals to revive. I also serve as a voluntary administrator for the health desk of UELCI, which has committed to reviving closed Lutheran mission hospitals including the Danish Mission Hospital from my youth.

Why do you feel it is important for Lutheran churches in India to be a part of the LWF Communion?

Most Indian Lutheran churches have rooted history in the witness of our Lutheran faith which is transferred to the next generation and we want to share our Indian understanding of Lutheranism with the world as we learn from other Lutherans.

We are part of the global communion, and in that communion, there is mutual learning.

JEH is keen to build partnerships with Lutheran hospitals across the world where we can learn from the best and help the least. Areas of potential partnerships include academic learning, skill training, research, institutional capacity development, exchange programs and provision of surgical services where eye surgeons are scarce.

*Inclusive Health is a policy to make healthcare accessible to people with intellectual disabilities.

The Tamil Evangelical Lutheran Church is one of the 12 LWF member churches in India, which also make the United Evangelical Lutheran Churches in India (UELCI).

Voices from the Communion

The Lutheran World Federation is a global body that shares the work and love of Christ in the world. In this series, we profile church leaders and staff as they discuss topical issues and set out ideas for building peace and justice in the world, ensuring the churches and communion grow in witness and strength.