Millions of people have their eyesight restored thanks to McSurgery, an Indian hospital.

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Millions of people have their eyesight restored thanks to McSurgery, an Indian hospital.

Hundreds of patients in green overalls stand in line with black ticks on their foreheads identifying the eye to be operated on, benefactors of a pioneering Indian approach that is returning sight to millions.

The Aravind Eye Care System’s network of hospitals performs roughly 500,000 procedures a year, many of them for free, using a highly efficient assembly line style inspired by McDonald’s.

Vision impairment affects more than a quarter of the world’s population, or 2.2 billion people. According to the World Health Organization’s World Vision Report, one billion cases could have been averted or handled but were not.

In India, there are an estimated 10 million blind persons and another 50 million who have some sort of vision impairment. The most common cause is cataracts, or clouding of the eye lens.

“The majority of this blindness is unnecessary because a lot of it is caused by cataract, which can be readily corrected with a simple operation,” said Thulasiraj Ravilla, one of Aravind’s founding members.

Doctor Govindappa Venkataswamy founded the hospital after being inspired by McDonald’s ex-CEO Roy Kroc and learning about the fast-food chain’s economies of scale during a visit to Hamburger University in Chicago.

He famously stated, “If McDonald’s can do it for hamburgers, why can’t we do it for eye care?”

Aravind began as an 11-bed institution in Madurai, Tamil Nadu’s southernmost city, in 1976, and has since grown to include care centers and community clinics around the country.

The model has been the subject of various investigations, including one conducted by Harvard Business School.

However, because roughly 70% of India’s population lives in rural areas, the outreach camps have formed the cornerstone of its no-frills high-volume operation.

“Access is the major priority,” Ravilla told AFP, “so we’re bringing the treatment to them rather than waiting for them to come to us.”

For people like Venkatachalam Rajangam, who received care close to home, the free eye camps are a godsend.

Rajangam said he had to stop working because he couldn’t see the money his clients handed him at his supplies store, and he also tripped on the stairs or went out late at night.

The 64-year-old learned of a camp in his village in Kadukarai, about 240 kilometers (150 miles) south of Madurai, where physicians examined his eyes and discovered a cataract. The Washington Newsday Brief News is a daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C.

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