Opinion: How to encourage and nurture an innovation mindset in eye health

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Bringing good vision to the 2.7 billion suffering from uncorrected poor vision. Photo by: Essilor

The current pandemic means many of us are trying out new ways of doing everyday tasks, experimenting with technology. While it has been a difficult period for everyone, there are some useful lessons and learnings we can take from the experience.  

For those of us working in the development sector, the last months have undoubtedly been challenging, with resources rightly diverted to dealing with COVID-19. This is unlikely to change for some time yet the challenges we face in the vision care sector remain. Ninety-percent of the 2.7 billion suffering from uncorrected poor vision globally are from base-of-the-pyramid economies, and the most impacted by the pandemic.  

In India, for example, unemployment hit an all-time high in August due to the loss of rural jobs, with experts saying daily wage earners and low-income households are impacted most drastically. Uncorrected poor vision affects an estimated 550 million people in the country and costs the Indian economy $37 billion every year in lost productivity.

The pandemic has exacerbated the need for us to find solutions to the barriers in addressing the need for affordable eye care products, better access to primary vision care providers, and increased awareness of the importance of getting your eyes tested in BoP economies.

Innovation needs to happen not only in service delivery but also across products, screening tools, and capacity-building if we are to have lasting and sustainable impact, particularly in BoP communities.

Innovation’s role in accessible and affordable eye care

As we’ve witnessed over the last few months, innovation is key to helping health care sectors continue to provide accessible and affordable services and products. While widespread use of telehealth as a solution to diagnose and treat people has only really been adopted in response to the challenges of COVID-19, it has been used in eye care as a viable option to traditional optometry for some time.

Ready2Clip 

In rural areas, consumers travel from afar to get their eyes checked. Essilor's Ready2Clip system of glasses saves them a return trip by enabling on-the-spot delivery through pre-cut lenses, which can be easily popped into frames. Ready2Clip Generation allows for even better customizations through adjustable pupillary distance and will now equip 92% of the 2.7 billion suffering from uncorrected poor vision.

Essilor in particular has been developing a teleconsultation and telerefraction model through its BoP Innovation Lab since 2018. The model — which saw rapid market acceptance — is an on-demand platform, connecting rural primary vision care providers and their customers to qualified optometrists who remotely oversee the refraction process in real-time.

In the face of COVID-19 and even post-pandemic, this innovation will remain important as a highly effective and low-cost way to provide quality vision care to potentially millions of people worldwide. This is why we’ve continued to innovate and have begun piloting a model in India where customers can make appointments for at-home vision screenings, facilitated by teleconsultation and telerefraction.  

Innovation needs to happen not only in service delivery but also across products, screening tools, and capacity-building if we are to have lasting and sustainable impact, particularly in BoP communities.

How to encourage and nurture an innovation mindset

1. Start from scratch

When innovating for the BoP consumer, you need to be aware that it is not just a case of developing a lower-cost, scaled-down version of a product or service you are using in higher-income markets. You need to put yourself in the shoes of that consumer and local partners can help you build an understanding of the local context and need.

BoP consumers are no different from any other consumer in that they have their own preferences, lifestyles, desires, and willingness to pay so these factors all need to be taken into consideration when coming up with service delivery or product innovation.

Our 2.5 New Vision Generation range of glasses are designed with the preferences and needs of BoP consumers in mind without compromising on stringent quality standards. We are also developing products to meet the evolving needs of BoP consumers during the pandemic, for example, blue cut lenses to protect against harmful rays from digital screens and anti-fog lenses to prevent misty glasses when wearing a mask.

2. Test and iterate

Innovation can change the course of whole economies and industries and bring prosperity, products, and services to the communities that most need them. And innovation by its very nature means not relying on traditional ways of doing things and taking a leap of faith or risk to try something new. Don’t be afraid to try something untested. One way to do this in a controlled way is to run a pilot and assess the results.  

3. Learn from others

Look around you. What are other companies and organizations doing in the sector? Is there an opportunity to partner with them on innovative product development or service delivery? What about in other public health sectors or indeed even wider afield? Are there approaches that could be adopted and adapted for vision care?

ClickCheck 

The ClickCheck is an innovative tool to screen for refractive errors, helping to overcome the bottleneck of expensive eye-testing equipment, enabling vision screening to be conducted anytime, anywhere. Priced at a fraction of an autorefractor — which can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000 — the ClickCheck is portable, easy-to-use, and does not require electricity to operate, making it ideal for vision screening in all settings, from semi-urban areas to rural villages to the most remote of communities.

For example, our refraction screening tool, the ClickCheck was first conceptualized by TEAMS Design, a design consultancy from outside the vision space in response to an open innovation challenge we organized.

4. Be open to new technology and fresh approaches

Technological and digital innovations can drive efficiencies and lower costs without losing effectiveness and the COVID-19 experience has meant more people are comfortable and confident using new models of communication and service delivery. To reduce the time and complexity in training primary vision care providers, we are leveraging virtual-reality based modules and e-training tools, with an upside of cutting training time by 50%.

5. Innovate together

Strong partnerships are not only a way of increasing the scale and therefore the impact of programs and services, they are also an opportunity to learn from one another. Two or more minds are always better than one when it comes to devising new and smarter ways to approach a challenge.  

For example, Essilor is a founding partner of the $1 billion Vision Catalyst Fund, which aims to provide sustainable solutions for eye health to entire populations in Commonwealth countries and around the world through collaborations with governments and the private sector. Partners will work together to provide specialist knowledge and experience on how to raise awareness of good vision and create access to vision care through sustainable inclusive business models and innovation.

We are also working closely with the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness to form a coalition to pool resources, insights, and collective actions to address uncorrected refraction errors.

None of us knows what the world will look like in the next few years or what the lasting effects of the pandemic might be, but one thing we do know is that innovation will always play a crucial role within the vision care sector if we want to eliminate poor vision from the entire world by 2050.  

Devex, with financial support from our partner Essilor, is exploring challenges, solutions, and innovations in eye care and vision. Visit the Focus on: Vision page for more.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Anurag Hans

    Anurag Hans leads the Base of Pyramid innovation, strategy, and operation team at Essilor International. The BoP innovation, strategy, and operation team work transversely across the inclusive business, philanthropy, and advocacy functions of Essilor to incubate and test innovations, inclusive business models, solutions, partnerships, and innovative financing mechanisms to address the needs of the 2.7 billion people around the world who don’t have access to good vision today.