Opportunity to prevent blindness for 10 million people in India
18 December 2013: Bangalore, India. Unitus Ventures (formerly Unitus Seed Fund), India’s most active impact investor, has made an investment in Welcare Health Systems Private Ltd, an affordable eye screening services company. Welcare sets up low-cost eye screening services within existing health centers making them accessible to patients at high-risk for eye diseases (such as diabetes) which could lead to blindness. To make screenings affordable – at less than half the cost of conventional procedures — Welcare leverages new device technology connected to certified ophthalmologists working remotely.
Welcare is based in Chennai with operations in multiple cities in India. Welcare will be using Unitus Ventures (formerly Unitus Seed Fund)’s investment to expand operations within existing cities as well as to new cities and towns in India.
Disruptive opportunity to prevent blindness for diabetics in India
The first segment Welcare is focused on is the 6 crore (60 million) diabetics in India. Most diabetics can’t afford to have regular eye screens. One of most common complications of diabetes is an eye disease called diabetic retinopathy, which if untreated can lead to irreversible blindness. This is a serious situation which requires eye screening on a massive scale to address.
“It is critical for diabetics to get screened at least once per year in order to catch diabetic retinopathy early on,” says Dr. Mala Dharmalingam, Chief of Endocrinology, Mallya Hospital, Bangalore. “This allows routine interventions which can prevent loss of eye sight and its significant lifelong consequences.”
Welcare’s solution brings eye screening services to the average Indian by dramatically reducing the cost. Welcare sets up screening centers within existing medical facilities leveraging existing infrastructure and provide convenience for patients. Welcare installs an innovative eye screening device along with trained technicians to administer the screenings. The eye screening device has an Internet connection so that certified ophthalmologists can review and diagnose screenings remotely, greatly reducing the operating costs. This allows eye screenings to be offered at a much lower price that is affordable to most people.
“We are excited by Dr. Senthil’s progress and vision to bring affordable eye screening to the masses in India,” said Dave Richards, Managing Partner, Unitus Ventures (formerly Unitus Seed Fund). “Through early detection of eye diseases at under half the cost of conventional procedures, Welcare has the potential to prevent blindness for 10 million Indians.”
Enables medical facilities to offer more comprehensive services
Welcare offers existing medical centres such as diabetic clinics and general hospitals the opportunity to offer on-premise eye screening services for the first time. Previously, most healthcare facilities would have to refer patients to outside specialty clinics because they could not setup their own financially viable eye screening service. This allows medical centres to deliver better care and to generate additional revenue streams.
Welcare is led by Dr. T. Senthil, an ophthalmologist and healthcare entrepreneur who has developed and piloted this innovative new service delivery model. Dr. N. Malathi, an ophthalmologist and a phaco and refractive surgeon, is a director and advisor.
Unitus Capital was the financial advisor and Impact Law Ventures was the legal advisor on this transaction.