One-man mission to make eye care accessible in Assam with ERC Eye Care

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Dr. Parveez UbedDr. Parveez Ubed is an ophthalmologist from Assam with a mission to provide inclusive, affordable and accessible eye care to all, primarily to the underserved community. After he graduated in 2007, he started working in the civil hospital in Johrat, and came across a large number of people with cataract. There were also many patients with very low vision who had not taken any corrective measures.

Parveez says that Assam has the lowest access to eye care services in the country and approximately 18% of Indians suffering from cataract are from here.  Many general hospitals don’t have the facilities for cataract surgeries. Unaffordable costs are a problem for the lower income groups when it comes to private hospitals. While he was working in the hospital, he knew there was a large underserved population without any access to eye care services. But he had no idea where to begin.

Fast forward three years and Parveez has the answer. He might not have known how a social enterprise works back in 2011 but he has come a long way. Parveez is the founder of ERC Eye Care, a social enterprise on a mission to provide affordable eye care to one and all in Assam, primarily to the underserved people. ERC Eye Care received investment from Ankur Capital, Ennovent Impact Investment Holding and two other investors in December 2013. Today, ERC Eye Care has set up three vision centers in Assam –  Johrat, Nakachari and Borholla – and has a team of 22 members on roll and 40 who work part time.

They charge a consultation fee of Rs.50, their optical retail starts at Rs.99 and cataract surgeries at Rs.3500. They are working with a hub and spoke model where the district headquarters will have a hub – an eye center with surgical facilities. Each hub will be connected to four-five spoke or satellite centers providing basic eye care in the adjoining rural areas. The satellite centers will be run by optometrists with ophthalmologists supporting them. ERC vision assistants go door to door screening people  and building awareness. They have also started a mobile unit which goes about doing 15-20 camps in a district in one month where they provide free eye checkup and medicines.

Their model is an inclusive one with special emphasis on service utilization by the BoP. However, they have a range of products and services to suit people from all economic backgrounds. Parveez believes that with accessible network in place, they will be able to create better awareness about eye care too.ERC Eye Care camp

Parveez began with just one clinic in 2011. He also started organizing free eye checkup camps to reach out to a larger number of people. Very few patients came to his clinic in the beginning and he talked with them at length to understand the dynamics of the eye care system in depth. Understanding the problem from the patients’ perspectives gave Parveez a clear idea of how to move forward. But he still had a challenge ahead of him. He could only do so much with one clinic and he didn’t know how to conduct more sustainable camps. He believed that a hub and spoke kind of model would work. Hubs required a considerable funding to set up and he started looking out for it.

“Majority of people in Assam are not aware of social enterprises, let alone the knowledge that someone might be willing to invest in such a business. Even I was unaware. When I started I just knew one word ‘angel investor’. I kept searching and Google became my best friend in this journey. I started reading books relevant to this sector. I wrote down a business plan for the first time and started learning about various financial models that could work. I was looking for funding and I participated in various competitions. When I first started participating, ERC was not at a stage to be funded. I kept developing from the feedback. ERC won ‘Spark the Rise’ and was a finalist in the Sankalp Awards last year. Some of the mentors and investors saw ERC grow from an idea on a paper to a full-fledged business with a potential to solve a problem,” says Parveez.

ERC Eye Care is planning to expand its hubs and spokes with the investment and also develop its IT and mobile team to reach an even larger population and spread awareness regarding eye care. Parveez is on an all time high to treat as many patients as possible with ERC Eye Care.

Some other social enterprises working toward eye care solutions for the marginalized communities in India include Aravind Eye CareDrishti Eye CareEyeNetraForus and Vision Spring