Mirabile in oculis nostris
The World Health Organization estimates that 180 million people are blind or at serious risk of losing their sight. The tragedy is that upwards of 75 per cent of these cases could be prevented by early intervention and proper eye care, yet the reality is that it is unavailable and unaffordable in many parts of the world. Alcon Labs is a global leader in eye care, and is using education, tools and medical treatments to decelerate the rise of blindness and improve the state of eye health worldwide.
Alcon Labs has divisions across the world to fight and prevent blindness. Incorporated in 1977, Alcon South Africa employs nearly 90 people focused on serving the needs of healthcare professionals in the field by making available ophthalmic products, surgical instruments and pharmaceuticals. The company is by and far the leader in eye care for the region and is positioned under the canopy of research and resources of the global Alcon family.
Alcon South Africa has a very dedicated and experienced team, boasts Pierre Bosch General Manger of Alcon South Africa. “What makes Alcon unique within the ophthalmology niche is, without a doubt, the culture of the organisation, the breadth of our portfolio and the degree of professionalism and longevity of employment staff,” he says.
The passion Bosch shares for ophthalmology and the prevention and treatment of eye problems stems from the faith he has in the Alcon team. “The calibre, qualification and competence of the people who work for Alcon, I really believe, is one of the biggest factors in Alcon’s success,” he says. “And on top of that, we sell premium products with a breadth of portfolio that few companies can compete with in ophthalmology. I think that is a recipe for success—the best products, best variety of products and the best people to market, promote and research.”
According to Bosch, the company is an incredibly diverse organisation with two primary components. First, and largest, is the surgical instrumentation division which produces instruments for operations of the eye such as cataracts removal and the implantation of venular lenses.
The second is the pharmaceuticals division, which encompasses products ranging from contact care lens solutions to antibiotics. Treatment comes predominately in the form of eye-drops to treat the many ophthalmologic conditions seen on a daily basis by primary care physicians, ophthalmologists and specialists across the country.
Local impact, global goals
Glaucoma is a disease that damages the optic nerve and leads to progressive and irreversible vision loss. Making the need for treatment more immediate is the fact that those of African descent are five times more likely to develop glaucoma and, statistically, get the disease 20 years earlier than the global average age of 60 years.
Glaucoma screening is a major focus for Alcon South Africa. The pharmaceutical division of the company is working on prostaglandins which help decrease intraocular pressure—the cause of glaucoma. Alcon’s ultimate goal is to alleviate glaucoma entirely, but as of yet, there is not a cure for the disease. Alcon leads the proliferation of education and effective, early intervention to stem the tide of rising glaucoma cases, and is conducting prolific research for medication which inhibits the disease.
Alcon South Africa faces the reality that not every one of the 48 million South Africans has access to health care. “We are in a unique situation in SA,” says Bosch. “The private sector of 7.5 million people are medically insured but the balance, the rest of the 48 million, unfortunately have limited or different tiers of healthcare insurance.” Alcon is in the fortunate position of having such an array of products in their portfolio that it affords them the privilege of having a tiered offering. “Based on the affordability and access of healthcare in SA,” Bosch explains, “Alcon can offer its products at a varying degree of cost and availability, according to the need and resources of the individual.”
To propel this variety of products, Alcon has one of the strongest and most advanced products pipelines in their surgical and pharmaceutical divisions. “Alcon introduce and launch multiple products a year,” says Bocsh. “We are one of the only global companies with such a tremendous pipeline. That lends itself to sustainability and security going forward.”
The philosophy of Alcon and its employees is that those who are able to provide help and healthcare to those in need, ought to do so. Fortunately, likeminded individuals and companies have also pooled their skills and assets to deliver healthcare to those remote areas where it is both unavailable and unaffordable. Alcon has an extensive and developed global charity division where staff respond to catastrophes and areas needing immediate and urgent care.
“Alcon has multiple levels of support. We provide financial and product aid, that is one element. The most visible and proactive element to corporate giving,” notes Bosch, “is to make a massive effort to create sustainable heath care offerings around the world.”
“Africa has certainly benefited hugely from this corporate giving policy,” says Bosch. “Once a month, we have a meeting regarding the requests from countries from sub-Saharan Africa. We establish the level of support we can give, be it with product, technical assistance or instrumentation, and make sure that what we are doing is sustainable—not a once off or drop-in-the-ocean-type initiative.”
“We are also proud to be very closely linked with the ORBIS initiative for over three decades,” continues Bosch. ORBIS is essentially a flying, traveling medical unit, which conducts training and procedures in areas like Ethiopia, Eritrea, Ghana, and Nigeria. The ORBIS initiative includes volunteer surgical and support staff who fly into remote and rural areas to deliver necessary healthcare. Alcon became the ORBIS Global Sponsor in 2004, and continues to make ORBIS its largest single charitable commitment to date.
Pride and patriotism
Bosch readily praises the SA team for the endearing progress of Alcon South Africa. “The team that has been established has been hand-picked based on their specific competence and qualification. We built a team that is young, dynamic and lateral thinking,” says Bosch. The Alcon team are given the opportunity to realise their full potential and maximise their scope—and the results speak for themselves.
Without a doubt, Alcon South Africa is the leader in ophthalmology care. From the product turnover, breadth of portfolio and research and development, Alcon South Africa is the leading eye care company for South Africa, and the love of their country acts as a motivator every day.
“I think the positivity of the organization comes from working in South Africa. The passion and pride for this country, let alone the company, penetrates the organization,” continues Bosch. “I think working for Alcon in SA is doubly rewarding. Not only do you get to work for the most incredible company, but in an incredible country too. See how magnificent this country is and the potential this country has. This organization is proudly South African. We have tremendous hope and look forward to the future of this country. If we align our personal views on how much we love this country and express this within the organization, the prospects for both will be thrilling.”