Eye health cannot be addressed nor services scaled up without a major contribution from the private sector – effective and efficient markets with affordable products and services will be a big part of the solution.
The private market is often the main route for access to screening, eye examinations and glasses around the world, But many people who most need access to eye care services and products cannot afford it. In too many countries, the supply of glasses, contact lenses and low vision aids does not reach outside the major cities, excluding many communities.
To help create the right market environment, we will have to build public, private and civil society partnerships and break down regulatory and fiscal barriers to help expand access to affordable eye health services.
NGOs and the private sector should work together for the benefit of both sectors, leveraging their respective strengths, relationships, reputations, skills, resources and funding to find solutions and apply their collective power to deliver change. This will mean jointly developing sustainable business models and investment cases based on the principle of affordability.
This means NGOs engaging the private sector as business and delivery partners, not just as donors. For the private sector, it means a commitment to developing models and services at locally affordable prices as well as a willingness to share data on screenings and dispenses.
This will require new ways of working and a change in approach for both sides, with more emphasis on partnership and a focus on using complementary skills and expertise.
There are already strong examples of good public-private partnerships, including the collegial approach with the pharmaceutical sector on tackling onchocerciasis and trachoma.
We can draw from this experience and extend this concept to other areas including working with the private sector on tackling conditions such as diabetic retinopathy, and in creating sustainable, affordable, accessible markets for glasses. In many parts of the world, the market will be the way that refractive error services and glasses are delivered.