Private-private partnership delivers affordable eye care

An Irish non-profit, Right to Sight (RTS), partnered with a NGO – Lions Aravinda Institute of Community Ophthalmology (LAICO) and a private-for-profit company, Shalina, to deliver quality, affordable and sustainable eye care in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), shared Keerti Bhusan Pradhan, who was speaking at the Biennial Conference of Irish Forum for Global Health (IFGH) in Maynooth, Ireland (29-30 November 2010). This meet is being organized by IFGH with support from Irish Aid, National University of Ireland Maynooth (NUIM) and Combat Diseases of Poverty Consortium (CDPC). Read more

Right to Sight (RTS) had raised USD 200,000 to jump start this private-private partnership (PPP) model based initiative which eventually mobilized more than USD 1.5 million from a private company and a range of other contributions and expertise to make the eye care service sustainable and affordable in a long run in DRC, said Keerti during his interaction at the Health Systems and Services (HSS) parallel session at the IFGH meet.

These three private partners got together to establish an eye-care health centre in Katanga, DRC which began operations in 2007. There was a considerably small user charge for people accessing eye care services from this centre to meet operational costs and make the initiative sustainable. “By end of first year (2007-08), this eye care health centre broke-even by meeting the operational expenses,” said Keerti. More than 35,000 outpatients were seen and 2000 surgeries conducted in the first year of operations at this centre.

Another important aspect of this initiative that needs a mention is that it had built capacities and competencies of local healthcare providers in DRC to run this eye care centre. The expat-to-local human resource ratio has been 1:6 with 5 expats to 30 DRC citizens who are part of the team at this centre and considerable knowledge transfer and sharing of skills take place between them, said Keerti.

RTS worked with the Aravinda Eye Care System (AECS) which is the largest eye care provider in the world with a renowned service delivery model, a facility for manufacturing high quality ophthalmic products at low cost - Aurolab and an institute for teaching and training – Lions Aravinda Institute of Community Ophthalmology (LAICO). They brought in another partner, Shalina Laboratories, a pharmaceutical company in DRC, to support this initiative through corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. And that is how the eye care health service centre was built and started functioning towards end of 2007, said Keerti.

The DRC-based private-for-profit partner of this initiative, Shalina, plans to expand this private-private partnership model of eye care delivery to 18 African countries with six centres planned in DRC as well, said Keerti.

Although not connected directly to eye-care health services, yet in terms of similarity between the partnership approaches, it will be worthwhile to mention that a participant from Irish Aid said a similar project is also taking place in Tanzania on addressing issues related to disability.

These examples of private-private partnerships give hope – particularly to countries like India and Cambodia for example - where the first clinic most of the population visits with initial symptoms is most likely to be in private sector. If people can access quality healthcare without delay it is likely to have a very positive outcome on public health. In same HSS session at IFGH meet, another speaker Una Lynch from Queen’s University, Belfast, shared how strengthening primary healthcare services in Cuba had such pronounced positive outcomes in terms of public health.

Bobby Ramakant - CNS/ Key Correspondent at IFGH 

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