A team of eye-car professionals has developed technology that turns an Android smartphone into a portable, low-cost eye examination kit for use in remote areas of the developing world. Its designers say the device will help diagnose eye problems four thousands of people throughout rural Africa andIndia who are unable or unwilling to travel to urban centres to be tested.
MAU NAROK, KENYA (REUTERS) - Deep in Kenya's Rift Valley, in the remote village of Ambusket, scores of elderly villagers travelled to an old school recently to take advantage of a unique medical opportunity.
The app incorporates clip-on hardware and transforms affordable Android smartphones into a medical tool capable of providing eye examinations and diagnosing problems, via a wide range of tests. It was developed by a team of seven experts in the fields of eye care, research and technology, including British ophthalmologist Dr Andrew Bastawrous.
"The app is called the Portable Eye Examination Kit and is designed to work on smartphone. The first thing the app asks the tester to do is to create a patient's record by entering the patient's name and contact details, like phone number, and then it shows you on the map where the examination is taking place and the GPS is recorded for future follow up and management of that patient. Every other test is then based on that structure that you have just set up," said Bastawrous.
The smartphone's camera flash light is used to illuminate the retina and scan the lens of the eye for cataracts and other disease, while a shrinking letter appears on the screen as a basic vision test chart. The images taken during the tests are being sent back to Moorfield's Eye Hospital in London. They are compared to photographs taken with conventional eye examination equipment transported around the region in the back of a van. The research team say the early results are promising and that 1,000 people have already received some form of treatment based on their test results.
PEEK can diagnose blindness, visual impairment, cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration and other optic diseases, according to Bastwarous. His team believe Africa and northern India are the places most likely to benefit from Peek, because ophthalmologists and optometrists there are operating at an estimated 30-40 percent of their capacity.
"The reason we developed the app was that it is patients who are in the most difficult places to reach that are usually those who are in need of eye care and they are very difficult to find, they are very difficult to take and train personnel or expensive equipment to, and they are reluctant to come to main cities and hospitals to seek treatment, either because of barriers such as cost or fear, and so developing an app on the phone allows the healthcare worker to get to the patient," said Bastawrous.
After examination, a patient's records are backed up on both phone and cloud computing, while their exact location is recorded using GPS. Their results can be emailed to doctors who can prescribe appropriate treatment.
John Kipkemoi, a resident of Ambusket, was one of those tested in Ambusket.
"I just heard about this program and I decided to come over and get my eyes checked. This is basically why I am here today," he said.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 280 million people world-wide are visually impaired, with 39 million of them blind. It's believed that four out of every five cases of blindness can be avoided if conditions are detected early and the right medication administered.
"Eighty percent of eye diseases that cause blindness could be avoided and majority of those people who are blind live in low income countries such as Kenya, that is 90 percent. The most common condition is called cataracts, which is where the lens of the eye becomes cloudy and it can be cured with an operation, and the problem is usually getting the patient to the surgeon to do the operation. So where do they live, how do we find them, those are the challenges. So developing an app like this can connect those two," added Bastawrous.
The phone is relatively affordable, costing around USD 500. Standard, but bulky, eye examination equipment costs at least 160,000 USD. The project is in mid-trial, but Bastawrous's team have received invitations to demonstrate the app in another 170 countries.