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Faulty product? Informing consumers the clear solution

Company should have been forthright about likely link between contact solution, fungus outbreaks

May 2, 2006 | Corporate PR can be a lot like ketchup; almost anything would taste good after being smothered in it.

The Health Ministry of Singapore has reported several cases of a corneal fungus since November 2004. What those affected had in common was their usage of Bausch & Lomb's ReNu with MoistureLoc Multi-Purpose Solution for contact lenses.

In the U.S., 17 states are investigating 109 cases of the fungus that might be linked to the solution. Eight of those reported cases needed corneal transplants.

Fungal keratitis infections can cause eyes to swell, itch and emit discharge; significantly blurred vision has also been reported. More alarming than the actual disease is the gap between the fungus' official discovery and its removal from American shelves.

We should have been informed immediately after the Health Ministry of Singapore issued its report, but since the product was not wreaking any serious damage in the Land of the Free, the boys at B&L apparently waited until 109 cases had been reported in 17 states to take some action.

Comatose sloths could have worked faster. In November 2004, the fungus was seen in Asia. June 2005 saw cases reported in the U.S., and, finally, the removal of the product from shelves came last month. More than a year jogged by before the news in Asia had any significant effect here.

B&L claimed that since the product in Asia was manufactured in a different plant, the location had to be taken into account before jumping to the conclusion that the fungus was also on the loose in the U.S.

But considering the time lag and the extent of the problem in Asia, there's no reason that B&L couldn't have looked into its other plants to see if the same health problems could arise elsewhere.

While B&L may have released a smattering of announcements about this product to the American public, it never owned up to its possibly shoddy quality. Apparently corporate politics center on class action lawsuits and insider trading charges, and stock values play the prima donna to concern for the consumer.

The truth is that even if most contact lens users are all too familiar with the bright blue bottle of ReNu solution, they are not as well-acquainted with its recently discovered "side" effects. B&L has very recently started taking responsibility for its product and has even mentioned the problem on its Web site. The key word here is "mention." A visit to can leave one cringing for days at the sharp taste of ketchup.

Ron Zarella, CEO of B&L, claims that the corporation has been doing everything in its power to inform the public. Of course, this includes his extensive letter on the company's Web site, available to all those who peruse it as recreational reading. I've been using ReNu for years and I have never once been remotely inclined to read its Web site.

I seriously doubt many others have, either. A commercial during a popular TV show, a bulletin distributed to optometrists, or even a notice at grocery stores and pharmacies would have been helpful, as long as it followed a straightforward affirmation of the relationship between the product and the fungus.

Zarella's statement that "nothing has yet been found to show that ReNu with MoistureLoc contributed to these infections in any way" is not useful information but rather seems more like a meaningless public relations attempt. Why is it so ludicrous to accept the malfunction of a product?

At least three separate governments (including Hong Kong) and scores of people in the U.S. indicate that MoistureLoc has serious issues. No great service is rendered when B&L engages in providing its clients with correct information about the apparent negative effects of its product; it is the basic responsibility of the company to do so, especially when the health of its clients is at risk.

The fact looming before us today is that B&L has at least two strikes on its record. It waited an eon and more to issue a press release (which, like the letter, was barely conclusive), then adopted a lackadaisical, cutting-the-corners sort of approach to informing its clients, without ever clearly confessing to us. Be like a lens, B&L completely transparent and beneficial to the people.

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