Maisha Meds focuses its sights on vision with a flagship initiative in Kenya

By Maisha Meds and Nendo Ltd. 

A fifty-year-old named Rosemary was beaming after walking away with a pair of affordable glasses after a vision screening in Kisumu, Kenya.

“Going for tests is sometimes expensive, including purchasing reading glasses,” she told the Star, a Kenyan newspaper.

She got her vision tested and corrected through a new program by Maisha Meds, whose software is used by over 3,200 private pharmacies and clinics across Africa.

Maisha Meds’ programs already reimburse care for malaria, contraceptives, and HIV prevention. Now, we're bringing our startup spirit to vision care with the same goals: improving quality of life, building on what’s worked before, trying something new, and learning along the way.

An Overlooked Need

People don’t always recognise they need glasses, especially in an ageing population. The impact goes far beyond reading—including their ability to do certain kinds of work and participate more fully in the world around them. For example, a recent randomised controlled trial in Bangladesh found that median incomes grew 33.4% over eight months for participants who received near-vision glasses.

Traditionally, people in East Africa tend to get glasses in very different ways: Some turn to established optical shops, where prices may pose a barrier. These opticians often aim at patients who have insurance and recommend higher-priced offerings - some even charge patients to conduct an eye test. These optical shops also tend to be in metropolitan areas, such as malls and aren’t connected to other related services. Others buy from street vendors, who may not have the training to ensure their customers get the right lenses.  In between are a range of informal options, which include sharing reading glasses in some extreme cases for older members of society.

Pharmacies and clinics, on the other hand, are places people already turn to for basic health needs — and this is where Maisha Meds has ample experience. Maisha Meds operates in Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda, where we have teams on the ground guiding and educating providers on how to use our software. 

An Eye For Partnership

A new program, known as “Tazama” (to look or observe, in Swahili), was born when Maisha Meds decided to partner with Vision Spring, a social enterprise dedicated to making eyewear affordable. We started developing the program in March 2023, which included updating our software and testing different price points. We officially launched in August 2023 in three Counties in Kenya - Kisumu, Kakamega, and Mombasa. Tazama was born from testing phrases and was aimed at helping the public to remember how they used to see. The initial phrasing was referenced as “Tazama Tena” (‘Look Again’ in Swahili) in reference to seeing how they once did, before developing age-related farsightedness.

Getting the word out was no easy task. “Tazama” was Maisha Meds’ first consumer brand, and we worked with Nendo; a research and marketing agency that knew exactly how to develop a brand quickly, effectively, and locally in the communities where our customers live and work. 

“Tazama Glasses” was the name of the glasses brand, as it would present itself to Kenyans over the age of 40 who might be suffering from age-related farsightedness (presbyopia). The brand had to find culturally relevant ways of reaching Kenyans in three different counties with a simple, effective, and memorable message. Through the tagline “Macho Bora, Maisha Bora” (Better eyes, Better life), women like Rosemary and tens of thousands more would agree to a free eye test and later purchase their first pair of readers.

We put up billboards to capture attention on busy streets with our key audiences, created engaging radio ads featuring parents and children or engaging melodies, printed t-shirts, and developed patient cards for people who didn’t have time for a free eye test or couldn’t afford to purchase the glasses after their test. This supported our direct marketing taking the message to communities with outreach activities in local churches, open-air markets, public transit terminals, and within the participating pharmacies and clinics themselves.

Nendo’s on-ground team, comprised of local community members who speak the language and built close relationships, explored four entry points in conversations, messaging, and marketing collateral.

  1. Pain: for those experiencing migraines, headaches, dizziness, and effects of eye strain from presbyopia.
  2. Pleasure: for those who delight in what they do for work and leisure and want to do more of it without experiencing eye strain. Examples included reading the Bible, reading newspapers, or browsing the internet, among others.
  3. Productivity: for those who wish to work for longer and earn more. Whether this is serving more clients, serving in a social or religious group, or reading phone (mobile money) messages.
  4. Presentation: for those who wish to look good. Whether this is matching their glasses to a certain outfit or getting reading glasses to look good and feel good.

Nendo’s marketing, creative, and communications assets and approaches would explore ways to gather learnings on repeatable and scalable ways to impact local communities.

Very quickly, these efforts paid off. One community event focused on traders in Kisumu's Kibuye Market was featured in the Star, Kala TV, and Daily Nation, one of the largest newspapers in Kenya. Another event in nearby Jubilee Market was also featured in the Star.

After running our radio ads in Mombasa, Radio Kaya started receiving calls from listeners who were curious about the program. They even invited our local team to the studio to discuss the program and answer listener questions. 

“The radio interview exercise was an eye-opener to both the listeners and the Maisha Meds team,” said Collins Omondi, a customer experience associate for Maisha Meds in Mombasa. In addition to educating listeners about the program, he underscored how useful it was to have a central way to respond to listeners’ questions “right on the spot.”
Maisha Meds senior associate Merceline Ojenge (left) and Mr. Grace Jowi Jobita, treasurer for the NGO Maendeleo ya Wanawake, speak with Mr. Haron Otieno of Kisumu-based radio station Nam Lolwe FM.
Setting Our Sights On The Road Ahead

The community's response has been enthusiastic. To date, we’ve conducted over 6,000 screenings and distributed more than 5,000 pairs of eyeglasses. With such fast-growing appeal, we’re finding ways to tackle new challenges associated with the program’s success. 

Malaria tests may be one-size-fits-all, but eyeglasses aren’t. Tazama’s popularity means that a pharmacy may need to restock a particular strength. And providing patients with dignified and affordable choices, even particular styles with our black and tortoise shell designs growing in popularity. To tackle this, we're experimenting with patient cards, which have allowed people to pick up their glasses later or at a different participating pharmacy or clinic closer to where they live, work, or frequent. This has helped ensure we meet demand efficiently and track our impact.

We anticipate demand will continue to grow—not only because we’re getting the word out on billboards and radio stations but also because word of mouth is a powerful tool. As long as people like Kisumu resident Rosemary have a story to tell, others will be listening. There’s nothing like seeing the look in someone’s eyes when they realise they can see clearly again—their “Tazama tena” moment.

For Rosemary that came immediately when she bought her first pair. “Today, I'm happy that I can finally read my Bible before going to sleep,” she told the Star.
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