Health Affairs held a briefing at the National Press Club on July 8th, to let the attendees know that although healthcare in India and China has improved, these countries are still facing fundamental challenges, but at the same time stand on the brink of major health reforms. These countries face other health concerns such as HIV/AIDS, aging populations, and as their populations grow wealthier, many will face the same chronic diseases that affect the U.S.
There are however a number of success stories in India and one in particular is the specialty eye care network in India called Aravind which won the Gates Award for Global health in May 2008. Aman Bhandari, a researcher at CMS, discussed the network in the article “Specialty Care Systems: A Pioneering Vision for Global Health”. The article co-authored by Bhandaria, Sandra Dratler, Kristiana Raube, and R.D. Thulasiraj, was just published in the July/August Health Affairs Journal.
Aravind began in the 1970’s when Govindappa Venkataswamy also known as Dr. V, noted that the Indian government could not meet their current need for cataract surgery especially in impoverished populations and in low resource settings. Dr. V then came to the U.S and was very impressed with how the McDonald chain was able to provide affordable and consistent quality using a highly efficient system at each restaurant. Taking this information back to his country, Dr. V went to work to provide better cataract care by developing a system using standardized management to efficiently provide better care.
As a result, Dr. V created the Aravind Eye Care System that was first used in an eleven bed hospital. The program has grown so much that by 2008, Aravind now has 4,000 beds at five hospitals and examines more than two million patients annually. Revenue generated by paying patients is used to support the services provided at low or no cost to poor patients.
In another move initially done to provide efficiency and to lower the cost for intraocular lenses that are needed to perform widespread cataract surgery, Aravind and two key partner organizations started and now operate their own manufacturing plant. By producing the lenses themselves, they reduced the cost of the lenses from $200 to less than $10. Now Aurolab intraocular lenses are used in more than 100 countries and exported through various NGO partners and distribution channels which make up 10% of the global market for intraocular lenses.
As Aravind matured, they located services in urban areas or settings where people are willing to travel to eye camps, vision centers, or kiosks. There are however, patients in very rural villages, the Himalayas, and Nepal, and these residents are still able to receive quality eye care provided through “Wi-Fi” wireless networks.
For example, the networks allow eye specialists at Aravind Eye Hospital in Southern India to interview and examine patients in remote clinics using high quality video conferencing. Patients see the nurse, than spend a few minutes on a web camera consulting with an Aravind doctor. If the doctor determines that a closer examination is needed, the patient is given a hospital appointment.
In addition to effective treatments for cataracts, the Indian healthcare industry in general is emerging as one of the major growth service sectors in India. The Indian pathology industry has been growing along with the outsourcing of laboratory tests. Since many Americans are now interested in doing business with India especially in the medical technology field, the U.S. Department of Commerce has established a new India Business Center to help find business opportunities for American businesses.
The India Business Center provides a web portal www.export.gov/india with up-to-date information, telephone counseling, information on the complexities of the market, and conducts outreach activities to provide information on business opportunities in India.
In addition, the U.S. Commercial Service Health Care Team housed within the Department of Commerce, has created the Health Care e-Market Express at www.buyusa.gov/eme/ict.html . This service was requested by U.S. healthcare companies to notify them at least monthly of new healthcare market research and trade leads received from the U.S. Embassies and Consulates overseas.