Aravind Eye Care

By Laura Benedict

The existence of the means by which to address disparities in the realization of economic/social/cultural rights is not accompanied by the motivation to do so. While fundamental human needs are generally met in the Global North allowing individuals to thrive, the lack of a basic standard of living forces individuals in the Global South to focus solely on survival. It is with these gaping disparities in mind that entrepreneurs have founded social enterprises across the globe to use profit as a means to achieve social impact.

One such organization that provides a glimmer of hope in a world where 80% of the 39 million cases of blindness are needless is the high performance social enterprise, Aravind Eye Care. Defined by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Aravind is able to work to address needless blindness as it offers patients the choice to pay, thus dramatically increasing the market of those in need of treatment (Source 1). Aravind’s optional payment policy is made possible by the high quality of care that attracts patients able to pay regular or premium prices for treatment. The consultation fee for paying patients valid for three months or three visits is less than $1. If cataracts are diagnosed, 47% of patients pay regular and premium prices for surgery ranging from $111-$178 and $204-$1044 respectively while 26% of patients make minimal payments of $11-$17 (Source 5). Therefore, 27% of patients who undergo cataract surgery pay nothing at all; their costs are covered by those that choose to pay. Consequently, any extra profit is reinvested back into the organization. Like other social enterprises, Aravind is privately owned; therefore it does not hold any obligation to shareholders as publicly owned social businesses do. This allows the organization to focus on promoting its social mission. By basing its business model on targeting those least able to pay, Aravind is best able to fulfill its mission of eliminating needless blindness. This prosperous business model would not have been possible without Dr. Venkataswamy’s motivation for social impact.

Tool of Measurement Human Development Index (Source 4) Gini Coefficient(Source 2) Corruption Perception Index (Source 3)
Ranking/Score 136th 33.9 94th

It is critical to examine the political, economic, and social context in which Aravind was founded in order to understand the demand for an innovative approach to eye care. India’s low rankings on the Human Development Index and the Corruption Perception Index exemplify a distrust of government and a destitute standard of living as determined by income, education, and healthcare. Similarly, the Gini coefficient indicates that a majority of the population has the same little amount of wealth. Over 12 million people are blind in India, 75% due to curable cataracts, with the majority living on less than $2 a day (Source 3). Blindness not only robs victims of their sight; it renders them unable to be employed, to care for their families and themselves, and ultimately rids them of human dignity. These conditions impact the feasibility of patients, especially in rural areas, to access healthcare services even if their diagnosis is treatable as they cannot find transportation or afford to take time off to seek treatment.

Given these circumstances, traditional healthcare models of the developed world are useless in addressing the astronomical scope and scale of demand for optometric care in India. Therefore, Dr. V and his team had no choice but to reinvent technical, financial, and operational practices to fit the unique demands of healthcare in the developing world. Such innovations include: the development of an alternative surgical technique for free and ultra-subsidized patients comparable to the expensive and fast-healing “phaco” cataract removal, the implementation of a systemic procedure for cataract surgeries that allows one surgeon to complete hundreds of surgeries daily, the availability of free transportation and food for patients who otherwise would not have pursued treatment, and the forging of partnerships to foster an international eye care regime including the Seva Foundation, IOL International, Combat Blindness Foundation, and Sightsavers International (Source 5).

Overall, Aravind’s technological, procedural, and organizational innovations allow it to better achieve its goal of eliminating needless blindness as inspired by Dr. V’s motivation for social impact. By applying a similar model of fast-food franchises such as McDonald’s to healthcare, Aravind is able to complete over a million surgeries annually at low cost to those least accessible to care. It is ironic that the healthcare model of the United States, the most developed country in the world, is not as effective as Aravind’s model. It is proven by Aravind’s example that compassion for human beings and the prioritization of basic human rights makes any daunting challenge- whether in rural India or the United States- more than possible.


Works Cited

  1. “Aravind Eye Care System.” Aravind Eye Care System. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2015.
  2. “GINI Index.” Data. World Bank, n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2015.
  3. “India Ranked 94th in Corruption Perception Index Ratings Says Transparency International.” Indian Express. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2015.
  4. “International Human Development Indicators – United Nations Development Programme.” International Human Development Indicators. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2015.
  5. Mehta, Pavithra K., and Suchitra Shenoy. Infinite Vision: How Aravind Became the World’s Greatest Business Case for Compassion. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler, 2011. Print.