Aravind Eye Care System, believed to be the world's largest eye care provider, has been named the winner of this year's $1.5 million Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, the world's largest award for humanitarian achievement.
Founded in 1976 by pioneering eye surgeon Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy, Aravind works to end the unnecessary blindness that affects millions of people in the developing world — including twelve million in India, where genetics and intense sunlight cause many Indians to develop cataracts in their forties and fifties. Without surgery, many of these individuals will go blind, losing many of their most productive years.
Inspired by fast-food giant McDonald's ability to replicate the same kind of quality and efficiency anywhere in the world, Venkataswamy adapted the assembly-line concept to eye care, standardizing everything from systems and equipment to training. Leveraging productivity innovations that it pioneered, Aravind performs 300,000 eye surgeries a year — 70 percent of them at low or no cost. As of 2009, the organization had handled more than 29 million outpatient visits and performed over 3.6 million surgeries, enabling it to operate at one-fifth the cost of hospitals performing the same kind of work. The organization is working to expand its model globally and has established seven eye hospitals in Bangladesh in addition to the five hospitals it operates in India.
"The worldwide visibility and recognition that comes with the Hilton Humanitarian Prize will allow us to bring our healthcare model to alleviate suffering in many more parts of the world," said Aravind chairman Dr. P. Namperumalsamy. "Over 80 percent of the developing world's blindness and impaired vision is needless, causing enormous personal and family suffering and severely limiting a country's ability to develop. Our goal is to manage one hundred hospitals worldwide by 2015 to provide sight to many millions, and the Hilton Humanitarian Prize will help us reach this goal."