SOMS social venture launches discounted eye care solution for lower income population

Friday, 2 May 2014 00:03 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

So Others May See Inc (SOMS) is a social venture that provides low income individuals with greater access to corrective eye care. As SOMS continues its effort to reach more people, the organisation is reaching out to companies in Sri Lanka and encouraging them to facilitate much needed eye care for their employees, particularly for those in lower income brackets, albeit at highly discounted rates. Today, general health care is widely available in all districts across Sri Lanka; however eye care is a specialty medical offering that still isn’t freely available at an affordable price. SOMS strives to serve two segments of people based on their income. The first category is those with very low income levels (household income below Rs. 28,000 per month) and the second comprises of employees who do not have a sufficient disposable income to afford eye glasses at the prevailing market prices.  
  • "Sri Lanka has 60 national eye surgeons to serve a population of 20.6 million.
  • 79% of people in the north east have never had an eye exam in their life.
  • There are an estimated 800,000 Sri Lankan residents in urgent need of corrective eyeglasses.
  • Three million adults are presbyopic (need reading glasses).
  • Approximately 100,000 are blind from cataracts."
SOMS helps approximately 20-25 needy individuals each day of formal operations by providing them with custom eye exams and eyeglasses. Since the inception of the project in mid 2011, a cumulative total of more than 21,200 people have been provided with eye care solutions. SOMS has also partnered with the Ministry of Health to screen over 485,000 school children in five districts including those living in the most disadvantaged former war zone districts. SOMS’ mission Commenting on SOMS’ mission, SOMS Founder and President Ashanthi Mathai stated: “SOMS focuses on being highly efficient and has implemented a successful process of partnering with local health clinics and other entities to utilise their resources to cost-effectively provide eye care solutions to individuals in need. Limitations of funding and donors restrict the volume of eyeglasses that SOMS can supply for free, yet the demand is consistently growing in Sri Lanka.” SOMS Vice President Mangala Yapa added: “The SOMS social venture model initially works through employers, particularly those with large numbers of low ranked staff who work in factories and estates. Employers have the option of fully covering the cost of providing their workforce with good quality custom-made eyeglasses or partially covering the cost and enabling monthly payroll deductions from employees to cover the remaining cost. Approximately 50% of the population on average lives on less than Rs. 237 a day and 80% on less than Rs. 437. While there are low cost offerings in the marketplace, the quality is not at an acceptable level and these products are often not custom fit which is important for eye care. “With eyeglasses typically costing around Rs. 8,000 and above in the retail market and with government subsidies available only for select groups of government employees, a large majority of people cannot afford eye aids. SOMS provides quality eyeglasses below market retail prices in order to make eye care solutions more accessible and in order to provide employers with a feasible discounted staff eye care solution for under Rs. 2,000.” Alarming statistics Currently in Sri Lanka, there are 60 national eye surgeons to serve a population of 20.6 million with several districts not having an ophthalmologist at all. National optometrist technologists are also very scarce in the country. A survey conducted in the north and east after the tsunami found 79% of people had never had an eye exam in their life. In rural areas, residents have to travel considerable distances for eye care. Alarmingly, there are an estimated 800,000 Sri Lankan residents in urgent need of corrective eyeglasses. In addition, another three million adults are presbyopic (need reading glasses). Approximately 100,000 are blind from cataracts. SOMS urges corporates with staff in low income brackets to assist them in their effort to provide an eye care solution as the requirement is rapidly increasing in Sri Lanka. Corporates are also welcome to facilitate CSR projects with SOMS in order to further assist more individuals requiring eye care. Importance of engaging businesses Highlighting the importance of engaging businesses, a Founding Director of SOMS Hemaka Amarasuriya stated: “We would like to reach out to the business community and invite corporate leaders to consider providing quality eye-care solutions through SOMS for their employees who cannot pay high retail prices. Employer-facilitated eye care testing and solutions enable us to reach many low ranked individuals and their family members who are in need of eye care but haven’t had access or the means to seek assistance.  We would also like to encourage corporates to consider partnering with us through CSR initiatives and outreach programs.” So Others May See Inc. (SOMS) is an International Non-Governmental Organisation incorporated in the USA and duly registered in Sri Lanka as a Voluntary Social Services/Non-Governmental Organisation at the National Secretariat for Non-Governmental Organisations under the Registration number FL -146205. SOMS has established itself as a niche, non-profit organisation with a solid and well-respected product and service offering. SOMS is well regarded by Government health officials at the central, district, and local levels and by corporations who have contributed CSR funds, often with their employees participating in clinic activities and experiencing great satisfaction.