How a Kathmandu-based eyewear brand is selling sunglasses and funding cataract surgeriesSeti Maya Pariyar basks in the midday winter sun, looking out at the hills with a newborn’s awe-struck gaze. “A black wire here, a yellow plastic rope there, and a bright, wide world,” she marvels. After two years of near-blindness, this is the first time Pariyar has seen the world clearly.
Seti Maya Pariyar basks in the midday winter sun, looking out at the hills with a newborn’s awe-struck gaze. “A black wire here, a yellow plastic rope there, and a bright, wide world,” she marvels. After two years of near-blindness, this is the first time Pariyar has seen the world clearly.
Like most women in the hilly district of Dhading, 60-year-old Pariyar doubles as a farmer and a housewife. Two years ago, since the early signs of a cataract began to damage her eyes, she had had trouble carrying out household tasks, cleaning, cooking and tending cattle. Cataracts soon developed in both her eyes, and in August this year, she lost her eyesight completely.
“Everything I saw was like this wire—pitch black,” says Pariyar. “Now the world is so wide and bright. I never thought I would be able to see like this again.”
Pariyar is one of 225 patients who has successfully undergone a small incision cataract surgery (SICS) at a two-day eye camp called the ‘Dhading Outreach Microsurgical Eye Clinic’, organised by the Kathmandu-based eyewear brand Anthropose Nepal in partnership with the Tilganga Insitute of Ophthalmology. This is the third such eye camp that Anthropose Nepal has conducted since 2014 when the eyewear company was founded.
Anthropose Nepal might be a for-profit organisation that sells sunglasses, but at the heart of the organisation’s goals is sustainability and a desire to contribute to the greater good of society in whatever little way possible, says founder Suraj Shrestha.
When Shrestha returned to Nepal from the US in 2012, after graduating with a business degree, he knew he wanted to start a business but was not yet sure what to explore. Like every returnee from abroad, he was not too happy with the domestic state-of-affairs.
“Everybody would be complaining about the system and the problems plaguing the country,” Shrestha says. “But no one was thinking about doing something that would make an impact on society, even if it was a little one.”
While researching the myriad problems that plague the country, Shrestha discovered that cataracts, a milky film that develops over the eye and completely obscures it, were pervasive, mostly in rural districts but also in the districts outlying the Capital. Out of 94,765 visually impaired people in the country, 62.2 percent are afflicted with cataracts, according to data from the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology.
For Shrestha, this revelation was as surprising as it was worrying. “I wondered why so many people had to live a life of darkness while the cure was right here,” says Shrestha, referring to the inexpensive small incision cataract surgery, a simple, low-cost operation pioneered by Tilganga’s Dr Sanduk Ruit in 1994.
Dr Ruit’s revolutionary method, where the surgery is completed within just 15 minutes, has brought sight to thousands of mostly poor people from across the world. The eye of the patient is first anesthesised with local anesthesia and they are sent to the surgery room. The surgeon then cuts a thin line along the edges of the pupil and then, with an incisor, removes the cataract and puts in an artificial lens. It takes a day for the lens to settle and then cataract patients like Pariyar are able to see again.
“We need resource-creating entities for sustained development but we also need to address today’s social issues,” says Shrestha, “This is what inspired us to start a for-profit social good company.”
Anthropose’s motto is ‘Get. Give. Change.’: Get a pair of eyewear, give a gift of vision and be a part of the change. Anthropose’s working principle is, “For every 10 pairs of sunglasses sold, we collect enough funds to sponsor a cataract surgery for one person.”
Anthropose currently sells 24 different glasses—16 variants of sunglasses and six prescription lens variants. The glasses are mostly sold online but also through four outlets in Kathmandu—two in New Road and one each in Durbarmarg and Jawalakhel. With the funds collected, Anthropose has so far completed cataract surgeries for 414 patients. The Dhading gig was Anthropose’s third camp, with 225 successful operations. Anthropose’s first camp was in Gorkha, in 2015, which saw only 49 surgeries, owing to the Indian blockade which restricted patients from travelling to the camp venue. Anthropose’s second camp was also in Dhading, in 2017, which saw 140 surgeries.
“Our efforts are to reach as many people as we can in terms of cataract surgeries provided, remedial education provided and access to quality eyewear,” says Shrestha. “Currently, our short-term goal is to make our product accessible to a larger segment of the population, which ultimately translates to a larger social impact.”
Nabin K Rai, deputy director at the Tilganga Insitute of Ophthalmology, says that Anthropose’s initiative gives a moral dimension to the campaign to eradicate blindness in Nepal. “It is an obligation that everyone should embrace—that while taking service one should also give service,” says Rai. “While we also receive funds from international donors, Anthropose is our local partner and we need to promote them. It’s been a pleasure working with them.”
For someone like Pariyar, this simple 15-minute surgery can be life changing. While previously, she had problems cooking and tending cattle, now she is excited about embracing life again. Basking in the sun that morning in Dhading, after the eye bandages have come off, Pariyar says, “It’s like I’ve been born again.”