This smartphone app helps cure blindness in poor countries

There is a life-changing news for visually impaired people living in the developing countries. Now they can see the world with their own eyes. Yes. A smartphone app has been developed for an eye test and its possible treatment, without going through any long medical procedure.


The credit goes to Dr Andrew Bastawrous who is an eye surgeon from London and has a long history of setting up free clinics and providing eye exams and treatment in developing countries.

Now, Bastawrous could be affecting the lives of countless visually impaired individuals globally.

There are 39 million blind people globally and in low-income countries 80 per cent the cases of blindness are curable.

Bastawrous said that the two main causes of eye problems are cataracts and refractive errors. “The majority is reversible. People who have been blind for decades, with help, can see again.”

It was this concept that motivated Bastawrous and his team to develop PEEK, the Portable Eye Examination Kit. To conduct research to develop the app, Andrew moved to Kenya in 2012 and set up 100 temporary eye clinics for the purpose of research to develop PEEK.

During a trial, Andrew and his team screened 21,000 Kenyan children in 9 days and will now begin screening another 300,000 in Eastern Kenya. Sub-Saharan Africa was the perfect place to conduct such a test due to the shocking statistic that more people there have access to smart phones then to running water.

PEEK is funded by a combination of prize money, crowd funding, academic grants and the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust. The non-profit organisation has survived thanks to pro bono work from doctors and developers, and support from different universities.

The app itself functions as an eye test where the letter E is shown on the phone screen at different orientations. The patient points in the direction they see the letter and the examiner swipes in that direction. The results are available immediately after the test, with patients receiving a text recommending further treatment if necessary.

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Another part of the app is PEEK retina, a piece of hardware that clips over a smartphones camera. Used with the PEEK app, the phone is held closed to the eye, giving a zoomed in view of the test takers retina on screen.

This device is able to see cataracts clearly, detect signs of glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and signs of nerve disease. With a clear view of the retina, it can also detect other health problems including severe high blood pressure and diabetes.

Therefore, the potential uses of this app are huge, and it drastically cuts set up costs of eye clinics which require several expensive pieces of hardware. The app could be groundbreaking in health oriented development projects throughout the developing world.


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