Af­ford­able eye care for the un­der­served

Backed by Nan dan Nile kan ia nd impact fund Lo k Cap­i­tal, Dr is h ti is try­ing to pro­vide cheaper eye care in K ar nat aka, re­ports N IRMA LY ABE HER A

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START-UP COR­NER > Backed by Nan­dan Nilekani and impact fund Lok Cap­i­tal, Dr­ishti is try­ing to pro­vide cheaper eye care in Kar­nataka, re­ports NIR­MALYA BEHERA

Some­time in Oc­to­ber 2014, Anan­dacharya, a chronic di­a­betic with a vi­sion im­pair­ment, walked into Dr­ishti vi­sion cen­tre in Bagepalli, an idyl­lic ru­ral town of 28,000 peo­ple in Chikka­bal­la­pur dis­trict of Kar­nataka. Bagepalli had no oph­thal­mol­o­gist and Dristhi was his only hope. Af­ter pre­lim­i­nary con­sul­ta­tions, Anan­dacharya, suf­fer­ing from di­a­betic retinopa­thy, was trans­ferred to Dr­ishti’s base hospi­tal 70 km away, where timely treat­ment re­stored his vi­sion.

Like him, Dr­ishti, an af­ford­able eye care chain in the state, has lit up the lives of scores of peo­ple in ru­ral areas. The start-up has at­tracted the at­ten­tion of many, in­clud­ing In­fosys co-founder Nan­dan Nilekani, who re­cently pledged funds to it.

“Af­ter about 18 years in the in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy in­dus­try, I and An­jali (wife) were look­ing to work in areas that de­liver so­cial impact. We wanted our ven­ture to be sus­tain­able and scal­able. We vis­ited Aravind eye hospi­tal in Madu­rai and were in­flu­enced by their model. We de­cided to start Dr­ishti to achieve a sim­i­lar impact in Kar­nataka and other places,” says Ki­ran Anan­dampil­lai, founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer. A tele­com en­gi­neer, worked as a vol­un­teer for the Aad­har project with Nilekani. The op­por­tu­nity Data from the Na­tional Pro­gramme for Con­trol of Blind­ness (NPCB) shows one per cent of In­dia’s pop­u­la­tion has avoid­able blind­ness. The ma­jor chunk of this pop­u­la­tion lives in semi-ur­ban and ru­ral In­dia. This is where Dr­ishti wants to play a piv­otal role.

“Our fo­cus is to bring af­ford­able high­qual­ity eye care. We in­tend to serve the whole pyra­mid with a spe­cial fo­cus on eco­nom­i­cally back­ward peo­ple,” said Anan­dampil­lai. Busi­ness model Dr­ishti’s hub-and-spoke model em­ployes-com­mu­nity health work­ers to screen peo­ple from door to door. Mo­bile eye clin­ics then visit vil­lages to treat pa­tients. The re­quir­ing de­tailed eval­u­a­tion are trans­ported to Dr­ishti’s dis­trict hos­pi­tals.

Dr­ishti also de­liv­ers ser­vices to pa­tients through telemedici­ne-based vi­sion cen­tres in small towns and areas where spe­cial­ists can’t go. Th­ese cen­tres help reach peo­ple at taluks with pop­u­la­tions of 15,000-50,000.

The cen­tres fo­cus on pri­mary eye care where treat­ment re­quires medicine or spec­ta­cles. Pa­tients need­ing sur­gi­cal or spe­cial­ist care are re­ferred to the dis­trict hos­pi­tals.

“Dr­ishti’s model is self-sus­tain­ing, scal­able and repli­ca­ble. In ev­ery mil­lion ppop­u­la­tion in In­dia, about 30 per cent re­quire some form of eye care and the bulk of them re­quire glasses,” says Anan­dampil­lai, who was also a found­ing mem­ber of OnMo­bile, a com­pany spun out of In­fosys.

While surgery and spec­ta­cles con­trib­ute 40 per cent each to Dr­ishti’s rev­enue, medicines and con­sul­ta­tion fees con­trib­ute 15 per cent and five per cent, re­spec­tively. About 70 per cent of the pa­tients pay in cash and the bal­ance comes from so­cial in­sur­ance schemes.

“Dr­ishti has a dif­fer­en­ti­ated model and ven­tures into areas other play­ers find it dif­fi­cult to go. In the eye care mar­ket in In­dia, all the ma­jor play­ers are fight­ing over the ur­ban mar­ket. We saw an op­por­tu­nity to in­vest with an in­di­vid­ual who was keen to cre­ate some­thing new at the ground level,” said Aditya Sharma, di­rec­tor, Lok Cap­i­tal, which has in­vested in Dr­ishti.

Sharma said it would not be dif­fi­cult for Dr­ishti to repli­cate the model in other states. Dr­ishti re­ceived seed fund­ing from Lok Cap­i­tal in 2012. In June, Ex­pan­sion plans Dr­ishti op­er­ates in four dis­tricts of Kar­nataka — Ben­galuru Ru­ral, Chikka­bal­la­pur, Ra­mana­gar and Chi­tradurga — with three hos­pi­tals, three vi­sion cen­tres and two mo­bile eye clin­ics. With the fresh in­fu­sion of funds, Dr­ishti is look­ing to set up six to ten vi­sion cen­tres in each dis­trict where it has pres­ence, start ser­vices in six other dis­tricts in Kar­nataka, and meet its work­ing cap­i­tal re­quire­ments. It aims to break even in 2017-18 and wants to treat 120,000 pa­tients by March 2017 and over a mil­lion pa­tients ev­ery year within the next five years. “We plan to be among the top five or­gan­ised play­ers in this seg­ment by 2020,” says Anan­dampil­lai.

Dr­ishti founder and CEO Ki­ran Anan­dampil­lai (cen­tre) and Nan­dan Nilekani (right) with a pa­tient in­side their mo­bile van

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