And Then There’s Dr. V

Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy died July 7 in Madurai, India. “Dr. V” was the subject of a wonderful profile in Fast Company by Harriet Rubin a few years back. He founded the Aravind Eye Hospital in 1976, aiming to eradicate needless blindness in the Indian state of Tamilnadu. The basic idea: It costs Aravind $10 to do a cataract procedure that costs $1650 in the United States. And it takes 10 minutes.

As Dr. V told Harriet: “In America, there are powerful marketing devices to sell products like Coca-Cola and hamburgers. All I want to sell is good eyesight, and there are millions of people who need it.” The idea for Aravind was born from that vision of McDonald’s. “If Coca-Cola can sell billions of sodas and McDonald’s can sell billions of burgers,” asks Dr. V., “why can’t Aravind sell millions of sight-restoring operations, and, eventually, the belief in human perfection? With sight, people could be freed from hunger, fear, and poverty. You could perfect the body, then perfect the mind and the soul, and raise people’s level of thinking and acting.”

“In the third world, a blind person is referred to as ‘a mouth without hands,’ ” Dr. V said. “He is detrimental to his family and to the whole village. But all he needs is a 10-minute operation. One week the bandages go on, the next week they go off. High bang for the buck. But people don’t realize that the surgery is available, or that they can afford it because it’s free. We have to sell them first on the need.”

In 2005, the five Aravind hospitals in India saw 1.7 million patients and performed nearly a quarter of a million surgical and laser procedures.