An Optical Organization With a Global Focus
The president of a European contact lens federation discusses the organization's past, present and future.
By Ken Payne
Among the many organizations associated with the optical industry, the European Federation of the Contact Lens Industry (EFCLIN) may not be the most instantly recognizable. Yet I believe EFCLIN has and will continue to perform an important role in the working lives of all eyecare practitioners across the globe who are concerned with contact lens practice. As an organization that represents makers of specialty soft and oxygen permeable (GP) contact lenses and their suppliers, EFCLIN's long-term aim is to maintain a variety of product choices and information for all contact lens practitioners.
Tracing its Roots
EFCLIN was founded in 1972, largely thanks to the initiative of George Nissel, who was one of Britain's optical pioneers. Practitioners who were in practice at the time tell me that the early 1970s marked the first years of rapid global growth in soft lens manufacturing and sales following the introduction of hydrophilic lenses in the 1960s. Producers of hard lenses (all polymethylmethacrylate [PMMA], as GP materials did not then exist) found themselves under pressure. With soft lens development far from being complete, it was doubly important both to the industry and to practitioners to have a strong voice representing the benefits associated with the established PMMA tradition. After all, the PMMA micro- corneal lens had formed the foundation of modern contact lens practice.
The wide international experience that George Nissel and his fellow co-founders possessed prompted them to set up EFCLIN as a cross-border federation. This ensured that its voice was more effective in what was then seen as a global stand by PMMA lens manufacturers against first-generation, big soft lens firms. It was an inspired start, and EFCLIN continued as a dynamic force for the rigid lens market over the next 10 or more years.
Changing with the Times
By the late 1980s, though, in a drastically changed contact lens industry, the impetus had all but died. Manufacturers of GP lenses, which had replaced PMMA lenses, had seen their overall share of the market shrink year by year as a result of intensive soft lens promotion. It was time to rethink the organization and make a fresh start.
The EFCLIN of today is dramatically different in activity and outlook from the original. Its membership includes more than 80 companies from Europe, the United States and around the world. The Federation has changed to meet the global demands of the era. New opportunities are opening up for both GP and speciality soft lens producers. Since the early 1990s we have evolved in line with the fast-changing trends in lens design, materials and consumer expectations as expressed through practitioners.
Today the EFCLIN Annual Congress is one of the world's largest dedicated contact lens industry events and takes place in a different European city each year. This month marks the first time that we will hold our congress in Barcelona, Spain. The congress explores and represents every aspect of lens manufacturing technology from new materials and machinery to packaging, which makes it a window to the contact lens world. It represents an information exchange forum that attracts approximately 200 specialist delegates and ensures that eyecare practitioners gain access to all of the benefits that advancing technology can offer.
Looking Toward the Future
EFCLIN is aware now as never before of its need to work closely and constructively with eyecare practitioners, who are the vital interface between the lens producing industry and millions of contact lens wearers worldwide. For several years, we have used our congresses as opportunities to expose EFCLIN members to input from specialist practitioners. On one occasion we invited a leading European laser eye surgeon, Professor Aron Rosa, who provided interesting insight into the future for contact lenses in a world where refractive surgery is an increasingly accessible option, especially for most contact lens-wearing age groups. Some of our specialists' contributions have been eye opening! Many have helped members realize the direction to take in developing new products, services and professional contacts, which they might otherwise have missed.
EFCLIN has many global links. We appreciate organizations such as the United States' Contact Lens Manufacturers Association (CLMA), which has used its levy fund from contact lens blank sales to promote continuing practitioner education and therefore maintain and even expand competency in specialty and GP contact lens fitting. EFCLIN realizes the importance of this kind of support.
I first became aware of EFCLIN in the early 1990s. I became a board member in 1995 and president in 2001. My key goal is to encourage EFCLIN to think globally. We have a duty to help reconcile the widely varying standards, methodologies and mindsets that exist in EFCLIN members' countries around the world. We must, above all, remain responsive to what member companies tell us and what they ask of us. With this global focus I am sure that EFCLIN will further prove its value in the global contact lens industry, attract more members and more effectively promote high standards in our business.
To learn more about EFCLIN, visit www.efclin.com.
Mr. Payne is president of EFCLIN and Operations Group Manager for the Contamac Group.