Could Indian ideas help crack China's cataract crunch?

February 1, 2006

Setting aside decades of distrust, China's Premier Wen Jiabao hailed the vast potential for Sino-Indian cooperation in science and technology during a visit to technology export powerhouse Tata Consultancy Services in Bangalore.

Setting aside decades of distrust, China's Premier Wen Jiabao hailed the vast potential for Sino-Indian cooperation in science and technology during a visit to technology export powerhouse Tata Consultancy Services in Bangalore.

Professor Zhao kicked off the 5th Congress of Ophthalmology and Optometry China with a frank assessment of China's cataract situation in his keynote address, pointing to inadequate training of surgeons, the high cost of surgery, and poor public education for the frustratingly low levels of cataract surgery. He estimated that 450,000 people go blind each year in China-"almost one per minute"-and of that total 400,000 were due to cataract and preventable.

"As China's population continues to grow and age, without sufficient numbers of trained doctors with modern knowledge and skills, the numbers of blind will only grow," he said. "At today's growth rate, China's blind population will quadruple by 2020."

This was the central topic of the Indian visitors, who explained that India's key to success had two components: management and technology. Dr. Ramakrishnan said that Indian institutions such as Aravind have developed an approach to health-care management that generates demand with free community screenings and the offer of free surgery, the cost of which is subsidized by higher charges to premium-paying patients. Aravind, a not-for-profit institution, balances its books despite doing two-thirds of its cataracts free of charge.