Saturday, March 16, 2013

Tech Transfer - the Aravind Way

Aravind Eye Hospital is undoubtedly one of the most unusual institutions in India. Consider these facts:

  • Aravind's surgeons average about 2,000 operations a year. The average for eye surgeons in the U.S. is 125;
  • Each year, Aravind Eye Care System conducts over 300,000 sight-restoring eye surgeries — and about half, are free;
  • Efficiency brings down the costs but not the quality. Aravind surgeons have just half the number of complications that the British health system has for the same procedure;
  • Aravind's JV with David Green resulted in Aurolabs, in 1992. Today, it is one of the largest manufacturers of intraocular lenses in the world, with sales in eighty-six countries. The average selling price of Aurolab's lenses is currently $8 compared to $150 in the U.S. 

How did a not-for-profit Indian organisation like Aravind manage to collaborate with an American entrepreneur, to mass-produce sophisticated surgical devices, at affordable prices?

A good part of the answer to this question lies in the networks & institutions set up by one individual -- Larry Brilliant.

True to his name, this American hippy turned physician, epidemiologist, technologist & author, has been tackling some of the worst medical problems affecting the poor -- smallpox, curable blindness and hearing disabilities. Brilliant teamed up with Ram Dass (formerly Richard Alpert) and Waly Gavy (all devotees of Neem Kakoli Baba), to establish Seva Foundation in 1978.

Seva Foundation tied up with a retired government doctor in Tamil Nadu, named Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy (Dr.V), and brought in the serial entrepreneur, David Green, to tackle a major bottleneck: making affordable intra-ocular lenses.

These lenses were prohibitively expensive at $100 a piece. Green obtained the technology from an American company for a one-time fee for technology transfer, and then went on to start production in 1992. It has supplied more than 6 million lenses to non-profit users in India and eighty-eight other countries. Today, these lenses cost just $4 a piece (Rs.270).


* --- Dr. V -
* T. Ravilla: developer of the LAICO-Aravind Eye Hospital Care System -- -
* Attacking the Backlog of India's Curable Blind -- The Aravind Eye Hospital Model -- G. Natchiar, MD; Alan L. Robin, MD; Ravilla D. Thulasiraj, MBA; Senthil Krishnaswamy, MD --
* Aurolab India -
* Ydstie, John (2011): India Eye Care Center Finds Middle Way To Capitalism, NPR, November 29, 2011; url -
* SEVA Foundation -
* Larry Brilliant -
* Neem Karoli Baba -
* Ram Dass -
* Wavy Gravy -


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