A vision for affordable eye care in rural areas

N Ramakrishnan | Updated on August 11, 2014

Kiran Anandampillai, Director, Disha Medical Services

Anjali Joshi

Bangalore-based Drishti provides services in under-served markets

They were classmates in engineering college. They were together in Infosys. He moved on to become part of the founding team of OnMobile, a company that was spun off from Infosys.

She worked in a couple of other companies. When they turned 40, they asked themselves what they would do in the remaining 20 years of active work life. Both were inclined to do something that had a social impact. They explored the non-governmental sector. After a few meetings with a few NGOs, they realised that it didn’t really fit the way they approached issues. The simple reason was they did not want to keep chasing grants.

Meet Kiran Anandampillai and his wife Anjali Joshi, both 42 now, and founders and directors of Disha Medical Services Pvt Ltd, which seeks to provide affordable eye care in under-served markets under the Drishti brand.

Kiran explains the rationale behind Drishti: “Social impact enterprises were just catching up. We put three criteria – anything we do had to have a social impact; had to have self-sustainability; and, had to be scalable.”

Next big thing

The couple, because of their telecom background, believed tele-medicine was going to be a big thing. “We chased tele-medicine for some time. We believed it can take care of the last mile problem,” says Anjali.

Both were firm on doing something in the healthcare sector. They were also clear that they could not solve too many problems and hence they had to pick an area, stick with it, learn the sector and then scale the operations. Kiran says the need for affordable eye care is huge in India, especially in rural areas. It was when they were evaluating various options that they came across Rajesh Babu, an ophthalmologist, who had worked in reputed eye hospitals and who had completed an MSc in Public Health for eye care.

After that meeting, Kiran and Anjali teamed up with Rajesh Babu and decided to do something in affordable eye care and thus was born Drishti.

Kiran says he spent a few days at Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai, whose forte is in providing affordable eye care, to study its model. “It was extremely inspiring. We came back from there and said let us get into this,” says Kiran, in a recent interaction at Drishti’s hospital, in Devanahalli, about an hour’s drive to the north east of Bangalore.

They scouted around before deciding on Chikballapur district, to the north of Bangalore, to start their operations. One, it was a rural area. Two, it was within driving distance from Bangalore. Three, more importantly, there were not too many eye care providers in the district.

Drishti’s model is simple. The hospital is in Devanahalli town. The hospital has a visitor’s lounge, an operation theatre and rooms for the doctors to examine patients. A meeting room doubles up as a training room for optometrists. There is space where spectacles are sold, with prices ranging from ₹300 to ₹10,000. Drishti has vision care centres in two places in the district. For this, it has tied up with general practitioners who have a small clinic attached with a few beds.

Here, Drishti has taken some space where it posts optometrists, who will examine the patients who walk into the general practitioner’s clinic for consultation. The optometrist examines the patient and recommends that he or she visit the hospital if further treatment is required. Drishti gives a percentage of the money it gets from these patients to the general practitioner, for the space and also for any patients that he or she may refer for consultation. Besides, it has a fully equipped van that tours remote villages and conducts eye camps. Here too, patients requiring further treatment are asked to visit the hospital.

The Drishti hospital performs cataract surgeries. In all cases, it is the patients who decide whether they will pay for the treatment or prefer to pay. The cataract surgeries cost about ₹3,000. A consultation could cost ₹50-100. Kiran and Anjali put in ₹50 lakh of their own funds when they started off in December 2011. Drishti raised around ₹ 2.5 crore from Lok Capital, an impact investment firm, a year after it started operations. “We are not yet cash flow positive,” says Kiran, though for a couple of months it was operationally positive. He hopes that by this fiscal end, the venture will be operationally positive consistently. “That is our core target,” he adds.

Expansion plan

They have started working on taking this model to another district. “Most probably along the Bangalore-Mysore road, either Ramanagar or Mandya district,” says Kiran. The lead time to start operations in a new district will be seven-eight months and the time it takes for that outfit to start generating cash is another five-six months.

For this, Kiran says Drishti will need to raise funds. It will require about ₹2.5-3 crore to start operations and it will take 18 months for that outfit to break even.

Published on August 11, 2014

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