Mass awareness about eye care and it’s diagnosis is badly needed: Sandeep Bothra

Shahid Akhter, editor, ET Healthworld spoke to Sandeep Bothra, Country Business Head, Surgical Alcon India in Bangalore to know about the growth of Indian eye care eco system.

India is the blind capital of the world. According to you, what kind of interventions are required to address the problem? We have close to about 12 million blinds in the country and that’s a huge problem. If you look at overall number globally, 30% of all the world blind population is home in India. We can do a couple of things. First, there is a huge opportunity for us to drive mass awareness about eye health, prevention, and early diagnosis. You look at our country, we’re geographically very widespread and a large part of our population is living in rural areas. To be able to reach to the length and breadth of the country so that people are aware about eye condition and eye health. Secondly, if you see the number of ophthalmologists currently available per million population, India is one of the lowest.

We could be anywhere between 13 and 15 ophthalmologists per million population where as some of the developed nations have 4 to 5 times more ophthalmologists. So I think on a long term we probably need more ophthalmologists. We need to create a system of education so that more graduates come in and take care of the unmet need of the people.

Secondly, we have some of the best technologies available which if is armed to the available surgeon population with the latest technologies, they will be able to treat more and more patients, which is exactly where the sweet spot of companies like Alcon come in.

What are the challenges that Alcon faces in India? One of the challenges for company like Alcon is how do you make sure that your products and services are made available across the country in the same quality. Here I think managing the logistics could be a big challenge.

I am very proud to say that the best technologies and the products which are available in the western world are available in the smallest towns like Mandya, Chuchura, towns around Nallore. So, to be able to reach out to those small towns and cities with the same quality of product, it takes a lot of logistics and planning and we are happy to be able to push the journey so that every patient in the country is able to get access toward the best quality care.

What kinds of new innovations you wish to bring in the sector in the coming year? If you see the eye care and specifically cataract surgery which is the biggest pie, it has evolved. Decades back, cataract surgery used to be something what we called as large incision surgery. So from keyhole surgery we’ve really pushed that hole to pinhole surgery, all thanks to the technology. If you see all our products are pushing the cause of minimally-invasive surgery and today our technologies are helping the surgeons and the patients to get treated fast and recover early.

Imagine if all the patients (12 million) who are probably blind today, if 80% of them can go back to work same day. So look at the amount of productivity gain that we can have. I think at Alcon we are really pushing the cause of better technology, minimally-invasive care with the help of our products across the range.

Now what is the differentiation factor between Alcon and other product manufacturers? We are an end-to-end eye care company, passionate about eye care and we have products across all the indication. We have the broadest portfolio in the industry and the beautiful thing is that these products are available across the world. So we’re really improving the standard of care not only for Indian patients but across the world.

At the same time, not only do we have the industry-leading products in every segment but we also have the best people to make these products available at the point of care. We are really proud to say that we are able to bring in right people and right products with the right kind of training. I think our technology is really helping to get the most out of every ophthalmologist possible and, therefore, pushing and reducing the burden of eye care.

How has Alcon contributed in the evolution of eye care ecosystem in India? I think we started with very few range of products but over the years we’ve kind of really introduced a lot of segment-leading products in lenses and equipments. We’ve recently launched a lens known as the PanOptix which is a breakthrough lens that allows people to see near, intermediate and distance at one go.

Our working population can benefit from this lens and they can be almost spectacle free. What’s also happening is that we’ve really upped the game as far as our equipment is concerned. Now we have state-of-the-art equipments today, which can help to measure the surgeon to manage the pressure and will take care of the eye health in the process of surgery. So that helps in better quality surgery, better clinical outcome and the patient can go back with early rehab.

Some of our technologies in visualization is really helping the surgeons reduce the amount of time they spend on every surgery. Our state-of-the-art visualization system magnifies that whole operation and helps surgeon see better in 3D environment. That is really helping the surgeons push the cause of better clinical.


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