In 1976, Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy (known to all as Dr. V) opened an 11-bed eye clinic in a rented house in Madurai, India, with the mission to eliminate needless blindness.
Of the world’s 39 million blind people, 12 million are in India, where the main cause of blindness is cataracts, which are almost always curable, and yet the poor often cannot afford the surgeries. To respond to this enormous challenge, Dr. V pioneered a new health care model that combines high quality and high volume along with low cost. Aravind’s unique assembly-line approach increases productivity tenfold, and a full range of eye care services are offered, from general ophthalmology and cataracts to corneal transplants, diabetic retinopathy and other retinal disorders.
Aravind operates a growing network of 11 hospitals in South India where over 400,000 eye surgeries are performed a year, making it the largest eye care provider in the world. Since its inception, Aravind has handled more than 48 million outpatient visits and performed more than 5.5 million surgeries – with about 60% provided free or subsidized to the poor. Revenue from paying clients makes the organization self-sustainable. In addition, Aurolab, Aravind’s manufacturing arm, produces affordable intraocular lenses, ophthalmic sutures and pharmaceuticals, meeting more than 10% of developing countries’ needs.
Since inception, Aravind has been conducting outreach camps in rural areas in partnership with local service organizations or philanthropic individuals. The strong outreach network now conducts around 2,600 eye camps, screens more than half a million patients. The patients requiring surgery are brought to the hospital, offered accommodation and surgery – all free of cost. Later a more permanent service was required to create reliable access and this led to the experimentation with setting up IT enabled
Vision Centers to provide primary eye care. With the help of telemedicine in these centres, patients consult ophthalmologists in the base hospital and avail treatment. Those with complicated problems are referred to the hospital. Now, there are 59 such centres that see around 440,000 patients a year.
The intraocular lens (IOL) implanted during cataract surgery improves visual outcomes and, thereby, quality of life. However, the high cost threatened Aravind’s ability to provide IOLs to its poorer patients in the early 1990s. This led to Aravind establishing Aurolab, a manufacturing facility, which introduced IOLs at $10 while others were selling them at $60-$100. Aurolab now produces high quality IOLs, sutures, blades, and pharmaceuticals at a fraction of their cost in the west, enabling Aravind to maintain its equity in care. Aurolab now manufactures a little more than two million lenses annually and exports to 146 countries. About 60% of Aurolab’s sales go to non-profit organizations.
In order to truly realize its mission, Aravind needed to go beyond the state of Tamil Nadu in India that it serves primarily. While Aravind was informally involved in advising and supporting the development of other eye hospitals, with a generous grant from the Lions, the Lions Aravind Institute for Community Ophthalmology (LAICO) was established in 1992 to proactively and systematically promote best organizational practices through training and consultancy.
Till date, LAICO has mentored over 320 eye hospitals in 27 countries through a participative process of capacity building resulting in most of these hospitals doubling their output within two years of engagement.
Dr.G. Venkataswamy Eye Research Institute was formed to investigate issues concerned with causes and treatment of various eye diseases and problems related to delivery of eye care. The research activities at Aravind reflect Aravind’s commitment to finding new ways to reduce the burden of blindness.
The institute offers education and training programmes for different cadres of eye care professionals. Over 9,100 eye care personnel from 97 countries have undergone clinical and management training at Aravind.