Why Access and Innovation?

Why Access and Innovation?

Forging new markets with empowering innovations to improve corneal care globally

The following is part of our Access & Innovation Blog Series, which highlights the program, collaborations, and leaders that are imperative to increasing access to affordable, appropriate corneal care solutions that empower local eye-care providers to prevent disease and diagnose and treat patients more effectively.

Around the world, there is only one cornea available for every 70 needed by individuals suffering from corneal blindness. This fact alone demonstrates the critical need for new, innovative corneal health technologies and systems to help improve patient outcomes in low- and middle-income regions (LMIRs), where more than 90% of the world’s corneal blind live and an additional 1.5 million people become corneal blind each year. Most interventions that help prevent blindness or restore sight for people suffering from corneal injury or disease in high-income regions are out of reach for LMIR providers and their patients. This inequity not only contributes to depression and social isolation for those who are corneal blind, it reduces their independence, productivity, and life expectancy – creating a cycle of poverty and premature death.

For more than 50 years, SightLife has been an ardent champion for those needlessly suffering in the dark – driving eye bank innovation to expand patient access to the sight-restoring surgeries they need. Advancing femtosecond lasers to prepare tissue for corneal transplants and our partnerships with airlines to transport corneal tissue safely and quickly, illustrate SightLife’s commitment to innovation to help deliver cost-effective impact to patients.

In recent years, building on our eye bank capacity building, we expanded the scope of our international programs to integrate with all aspects of the health system in which eye banks operate. This approach centers on five strategic focus areas: Advocacy and Policy, Prevention, Clinical Training, Eye Bank Development, and Access and Innovation. Together, these programs aim to introduce, integrate, and scale corneal care solutions around the world – helping SightLife and partners accelerate progress towards our mission to eliminate corneal blindness by 2040.

The SightLife Access and Innovation Program convenes and collaborates with partners in academia, government, industry, and the nonprofit sector to catalyze the development, financing, and sustained use of innovative and impactful corneal health technologies that reduce barriers to care and improve patient outcomes across the care continuum, from blindness prevention to sight restoration.

SightLife is also dismantling access barriers through the Deja View Program, which launched in late 2019 to create a new standard for the collection, handling, and re-use of expensive surgical instruments in low-resource settings. We were inspired to develop this program after learning that members of our volunteer clinical faculty were hand-carrying surgical instruments in their luggage and then leaving these critical supplies in the hands of training participants. Why? Because we knew the trained surgeons can capably and successfully deliver quality care to patients only when they have the appropriate instruments.

The Deja View Program was successfully piloted in the fall of 2019 and expanded in 2020 to ten ophthalmologists in the U.S. who pledged to donate their lightly-used instruments that are otherwise unaffordable to many health care professionals in LMIRs. After collecting the donated instruments, SightLife then leverages our deep expertise and understanding of distribution, regulatory and liability provisions, equipment maintenance, and patient safety to support health care professionals provide patients the corneal care they need. To date, participating partners have reported 100% satisfaction with the program.

Core to the SightLife Access and Innovation approach is ensuring the solutions we pursue are aligned with the real problems that LMIR corneal care specialists and patients encounter every day. To help inform the work of the Deja View Program, as well as other initiatives and efforts of our program, SightLife established an Access and Innovation Advisory Board, which is comprised of eleven esteemed corneal care experts, including Dr. Menen Ayalew (Ethiopia), Dr. James Clarke (Ghana), Dr. Charith Fonseka (Sri Lanka), Dr. Ahmed Gomaa (Egypt), Dr. Reeta Gurung (Nepal), Dr. Erick Hernández-Bogantes (Costa Rica), Dr. Ahmad Nurfahmi (Malaysia), Dr. Juan Carlos Serna-Ojeda (Mexico), Dr. Zhiqiang Pan (China), Dr. Virender Sangwan (India), and Dr. Rakesh shaw (India). Their collective expertise and local knowledge ground our SightLife Innovation work, bringing clarity and credibility to our technology assessments, pipeline management, partner selection and engagement.

As we forge ahead, partnerships are key to accelerating appropriate corneal care solutions that are affordable for the communities we serve. If you have an innovation that can accelerate progress towards addressing the unmet needs of the 12.7 million people who are corneal blind globally, please email Paul LaBarre, Senior Vice President of Access and Innovation: Paul.LaBarre@SightLife.org.

Stay tuned! In the coming posts for our Access & Innovation Blog Series, we will go deeper on the importance of private sector and academic collaborations and how we work with our Access and Innovation Board to prioritize our pipeline to achieve our goals sustainably.