The prize was established by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation in 1996 and “honors a charitable or non-governmental organization that has made extraordinary contributions toward alleviating human suffering anywhere in the world.” Previous award winners include PATH, BRAC, Tostan, Women for Women International, Partners in Health, and Heifer International.
Aravind performs 300,000 surgeries each year. 70% of these surgeries are free or subsidized. India has 12 million of the 45 million blind people in the world. Indians get cataracts in their 40s and 50s as compared to 60s and 70s in the United States. Extreme sun, genetics, and lack of medical access for early diagnosis are the main factors for the high rates. Without surgery, the patients become blind and lose productive years. The blindness also creates needless suffering for the patient and their families.
As of 2009, Aravind has handled over 29 million outpatient visits and performed over 3.6 million surgeries. The organization operates five hospitals and is supported by a network of clinics, research laboratories and manufacturing facilities producing high quality, low cost ophthalmic supplies. It has also expanded in the region, establishing seven eye hospitals in Bangladesh.
The founder of Aravind was inspired by McDonald’s capability to expand and replicate the same quality and efficiency of service anywhere in the world. He adapted the concept to eye-care by standardizing systems, equipment and training. By allowing nurses and other staff to handle routine tasks, the doctors could concentrate on diagnosis and surgeries. An Aravind doctor performs an average of 2,000 or more surgeries annually while a typical ophthalmologist might perform 250 to 400.
The organization depends on volume and efficiency to keep its cost structure low. In addition to providing services, the organization also set up Aurolab to manufacture lenses, costing about $2 each as compared to $200 elsewhere. Aurolab now provides the lenses and other supplies to 120 countries. What makes Aravind remarkable is that it has not assumed debt and has accomplished all this work with minimal charitable contributions.
I will be attending the Global Philanthropy Forum this year and look forward to the award presentation. If you are going to the event, please let me know!
Photo courtesy of fredericknoronha, Creative Commons