Social Entrepreneur Bringing Quality Vision Care to India’s Poor

Dr. R.V. Ramani, founder of the Sankara Eye Care in Coimbatore, India, has created a successful healthcare model to deliver quality vision care to the underprivileged in rural India. Dr. Ramani’s social enterprise model works on a unique 20/80 principle where 20 percent of the patients pay for the free treatment of the remaining 80 percent of the patients who cannot afford to pay.

Dr. Ramani and his dedicated team of eye doctors perform 500 eye surgeries per day free of cost. Nearly 70 percent of these are cataract surgeries. Over the last two decades Sankara Eye Care institutions have performed more than 0.9 million free eye surgeries across India. Dr. Ramani says that even though the achievements of his group are phenomenal, they remain unsung heroes because they work out of a relatively smaller place like Coimbatore, and not a metropolitan city like New Delhi or Chennai.

Dr. Ramani’s social enterprise for vision care has a clear rural focus. He says about their typical mode of working, “We identify a cluster of 10 villages, and partner with some local women and youth, who help with the initial health survey of the villagers.” Out of every 10,000 villagers on average, about 600 to 700 people suffer from some form of visual impairment. Sankara Eye Care provides them “Gift of Vision” cards.

Thereafter, a team of doctors and paramedics from the closest Sankara Center visits those villages, treats the patients, and transports the patients requiring surgery to the main hospital. The quality of care provided to poor patients is at par with that of the paid patients. Dr. Ramani says, “We do state of the art, sutureless phaco surgery with IOL implants. The actual cost of a cataract with IOL is Rs 2,750 ($60) because we do huge volumes. We implant high-quality lenses made in Chennai.”

Dr. Ramani’s social entrepreneurship and social innovation has led him to replicate the Coimbatore model at eight centers across India. The centers not only provide vision care to the needy, but also equip the local youth from the villages with technical skills to assist in the vision care programs. India is home to the largest number of visually impaired people in the world. Social enterprises such as Dr. Ramani’s Sankara Eye Care can manage to create a ripple effect on the socio-economic structure of rural India without any government aid or support. 

Photo Credit: barunpatro