A quarter of the world's blind population lives in India. About 70 per cent of India's 2.5 million blind people have cataract, which can easily be cured with a simple operation.
Cataract should be regarded as an epidemic, and treated on a war footing, says JP Singh, managing director of Bausch and Lomb Eyecare (India) Pvt Ltd.
One of the ways of doing so would be to lower the duties on eye-care products and direct the industry to use that amount to create awareness in a public private partnership mode.
How has the performance of Bausch & Lomb been in India? What is your vision for the future?
We are the dominant player in the contact lens segment in India with more than 70 per cent market share. We have constantly invested in offering a host of eye-care products. We have the right people, excellent customer relationship, brand equity, and an extensive distribution network. It is the right time to leverage on our resources and achieve profitable growth.
How big is the eye care market in India?
According to our estimates it is about Rs 150-160 crore.
Is the market growing? Are disposable lenses popular in India?
More than 1.5 million people in India wear or have used contact lenses. Coloured lenses constitute about two to three per cent of the total lenses sold. Disposable lenses are available both in monthly and quarterly packs. Usage is dependent on three aspects - the prescription of the ophthalmologist, affordability and hygiene. Some users do not clean their lenses regularly, which is important for its maintenance.
There have been reports about contact lenses from China entering the Indian market. Is it a matter of concern for the local industry?
Yes, there have been reports of coloured contact lenses entering India from China, but they are of low quality. We do not see any threat from these contact lenses, since our costing is pretty good. Moreover, these are healthcare and hygiene products and no would want to play around with their eyes by buying cheap but unsafe products.
But if the quality of Chinese eye-care products improve and the costs are lower, the Indian eye care industry could still face a threat?
We pay about 27-28 per cent duty. There were no duty last year. The five per cent duty that was introduced on eye-care products was also not a problem. But the 40 per cent duty on accessories and consumables like surgical blades is a concern.
As they grow more expensive, these products keep being used more than once, though they are meant for one-time use. The tendency is to do the same with all eyecare products, such as pads too. As a result the industry sells about 25,000 blades a year each costing about Rs 3,000. If we take the average use per blade at about five times, the industry should have been selling about 1.25 lakh blades.
If duties are brought down, the amount could be used to create awareness and that could be done in Public Private Partnership mode.