Ending Needless Blindness in Mexico: My Internship with salaUno

This post was written by MBA student Tim Morilla in October 2014. During this summer Tim interned at salaUno, an eye care clinic in Mexico that seeks to offer high quality eye care service at affordable prices. Tim’s internship was supported by the International Partnership for Innovative Healthcare Delivery (IPIHD), the Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator at Duke (SEAD), and the Summer Internship Fund.

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 285 million people across the globe are visually impaired and 90% of the visually impaired live in low-income areas.  What is even more disturbing about those statistics is that over 80% of those cases could be prevented or cured.  As part of my internship with the International Partnership of Innovative Healthcare Delivery (IPIHD) and the Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator at Duke (SEAD), I had the unique opportunity to work at salaUno, a clinic renowned in Mexico for offering high quality and affordable eye care.

salaUno was established in 2010 by two entrepreneurs, Javier Okhuysen and Carlos Orellana, with a mission of offering affordable, accessible and quality eye care treatments that could offer the highest social and economic impact for patients.  Initially, salaUno focused its business on cataracts surgeries.  With an estimated 2 million Mexicans with untreated cataracts, there was an incredible need for the surgery.  Using the Aravind Eye Care System (India) as a model, salaUno proved they could lower the cost (and as a result, the price) of cataract surgeries by using more efficient surgical processes.  Setting up two tables in the operating room, the ophthalmologists moved efficiently from one patient to the next, eliminating the time wasted prepping and moving the patient in/out of the operating room.  By offering the surgery at a lower, but still profitable price, salaUno increased patient access and quickly gained market share.  Since their origins, salaUno has continued to grow. They are constantly searching for ways to improve efficiencies in hopes of providing more cost-effective eye care.

This summer I worked with salaUno (and one of their sister companies, labUno) as they considered launching a new eye care diagnostic device.  In Mexico, many patients are unaware of eye problems because they lack access to regular eye exams.  A significant reason for this problem is that many Mexicans either cannot afford eye care or lack an easily accessible eye care option and are unable to take off work to travel to an optometrist’s office.  As a result, salaUno and labUno saw an opportunity for a product that could lower costs and increase patient access.  This summer salaUno and labUno worked with an organization, Forus Healthcare, which was already successfully distributing a diagnostic device in India.  The device was portable, allowing for patients to be tested in remote locations. Its mobile and broadband connectivity also allowed for remote diagnoses.  Furthermore, the device could be operated by a minimally trained technician so that doctors could spend less time on diagnosing patients and more time on urgent patient care.  As part of my summer project, I helped salaUno and labUno develop pricing, marketing and distribution strategies for bringing the product to the Mexican market.  I believe the product has amazing potential to help both patients and doctors in Mexico and I am very eager to see how it can help the lower and middle income segments as labUno begins to distribute the product in the fall of 2014.

Working with salaUno and labUno was an extremely rewarding experience for me.  Prior to this summer, I had limited exposure to working in social impact and entrepreneurial settings.  However, I found it particularly motivating to work on a project that could offer such a tangible benefit for people.  I am very grateful to the Summer Internship Fund for the opportunity to work with salaUno, labUno and IPIHD/SEAD and I look forward to continued involvement in the health care and social impact sectors as I begin my second year at The Fuqua School of Business.

The Summer Internship Fund (SIF) enables first year Duke MBA-Daytime students to learn about the rewards and challenges of social sector management without making a significant financial sacrifice. In addition, the program enables organizations that otherwise could not afford to hire MBA student interns to benefit from students’ expertise.  The SIF has supported more than 150 students, distributed nearly $470,000, and helped to further the mission of many nonprofit and government organizations. Funds are raised through student fundraising and from donors who believe in the mission of the program.  If you would like to contribute, you can donate online using your credit card.