Preventing Blindness in IndiaThe Artificial Learning System – also called Artelus, for short – is a newly-developed artificial intelligence (AI) designed for preventing blindness in India. The Artelus detects early symptoms of diabetic retinopathy, an eye disease found in diabetic patients which causes blindness.

India has a population of 69.2 million diabetics. Of these diabetic patients, an estimated 34.6 percent suffer from diabetic retinopathy. It can be treated if detected early, yet if it goes unnoticed, diabetic retinopathy will lead to irreversible blindness.

Yet with the strained healthcare system in India, diabetic retinopathy often goes untreated until it is too late. The doctor-to-patient ratio is tremendously low, with only one doctor for every 2,000 people. Artelus can take away the burden of diagnosing from doctors, allowing them the time to focus on treatments rather than examinations. This AI captures the patient’s retina image, analyzes it in less than 15 seconds and then prints the results.

Similarly, 70 percent of the Indian population lacks health insurance. This leaves billions unable to afford healthcare. Artelus is an affordable and accessible screening tool that provides results fast. With over a 93 percent accuracy rate, patients without health insurance save money on examinations and will be certain of when they need to spend money on treatment.

But how does the product work? The AI utilizes technologies like portable devices, cloud computing and deep learning. Deep learning uses algorithms inspired by the complex neural systems of the human brain. Thus, the AI will grow to perform better the more data it is given.

With the success of their first product, Artelus seeks to expand their AI screening tools even further. They are looking not only into preventing blindness in India through their diabetic retinopathy screening, but also plan to develop screening tools that can detect early tuberculosis, breast cancer and lung cancer. The company began with the dream of marrying AI with healthcare and look to be steadily on the way to accomplishing their goal, starting with the revolutionary Artelus.

Hannah Kaiser


Education is considered a fundamental human right, and yet most blind Indians are denied access to basic education. As a result, teaching professionals in India and nonprofits such as Sightsavers are taking action to ensure that blind people in India get the education they deserve.

India is home to the largest blind population on the planet. These 15 million blind people in India are often denied basic rights, as a majority of them live in poverty. According to experts, blindness is a major contributor to the poverty cycle. It is believed that there are currently more than two million blind children in India who are vulnerable to illiteracy and poverty, but only five percent of them receive any type of education.

The National Association for the Blind (India) states that it is working every day to bring more educational opportunities to blind people in India. In partnership with local volunteer organizations, NAB (India) has been able to initiate education for more than 5,000 children with vision loss. Additionally, NAB (India) tries to provide free Braille kits for blind students and is implementing a training center for teachers of those with vision loss.

Many blind Indians note that proper education has been one of the most important contributors to their success. National Geographic did a piece on an inspiring school in India that prepares blind youth for life. In this piece, the headmaster of a blind school in India states that “most of the visually impaired children come from such families where they are very, very neglected… as they’re neglected, we try to provide them love and affection [and] at the same time a training program to make them contributing to their family.”

A non-profit called Sightsavers is also working closely with schools and teachers in order to optimize curricula for blind children in India. Tools and technology are crucial to the success of a blind child’s education. These include physical aids (white canes, materials in Braille, etc.) and technology that is low-vision friendly. As a member of the Global Campaign for Education, Sightsavers works with local partners, where they help provide proper education materials and revise disability curricula. Sightsavers’ work ranges from one-on-one help all the way to regional advocacy.

Education is not only important to the success of blind people in India, but also a way to end vicious poverty cycles and bring about long-term happiness.

Morgan Leahy

Photo: Flickr

Smartphone App Blindness Kenya
The product of collaboration between The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a group of Kenyan doctors, The Portable Eye Examination Kit (or PEEK), is a smartphone app that promises to help deal with blindness in Kenya, Business Daily Africa reports.

According to PEEK’s official website, any smartphone equipped with the app can provide accurate eye tests by taking high quality photos of the retina. Such photos will enable an ophthalmologist to “view cataracts clearly enough for treatment classification, detect signs of glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and signs of nerve disease.” The app displays its versatility in that it will also help doctors with identifying other health problems including “severe high blood pressure and diabetes.”

According to their website, PEEK’s developers believe that this advanced technology simplifies the process of retinal analysis, saving users considerable time and effort, compared to the traditional method of using an ophthalmoscope.

In a March 3 article, Ventures Africa reported that PEEK has recently been launched in the Trans-Nzoia county in Kenya. As it is explained later in the article, this particular county was chosen due to its high rate of vision problems. In an interview with Ventures Africa, one of the co-founders of the app Dr. Hillary Rono said that “out of the 2.5 million people in the region, 80 percent have eye problems that, if not checked, would lead to avoidable blindness.” More surprisingly, “five in every 1,000 people in the region are blind,” Dr. Rono continued.

PEEK has been brought to use in up to 350 schools in Trans-Nzoia, as reported by Business Daily Africa. Ventures Africa reports that “21,000 school children in the district and 900 were found visually impaired and were referred to the Kitale County Hospital Eye Unit for treatment.”

PEEK has already made considerable strides in combatting blindness in Kenya, and its developers hope to expand the project in the future. According to Business Daily Africa, the app is in line with Operation Eyesight and Christian Blind Mission, sponsored by the Standard Chartered Bank. The project has “helped to restore sight to more than 8,000 children,” said the bank’s chief executive Lamin Manjang. “The project has a target to reach 120 million people globally.”

Although considerable progress has been made in the fight against blindness in Kenya, much work remains to be done. “With around 1 in 10 men and 1 in 20 women color-blind, it’s important to be aware of what you can and can’t see,” says PEEK’s website. Developers are still exploring ways to add new capabilities to the app, including a wider range of color blindness and contrast tests.

Hoa Nguyen

Sources: Peek Vision, Business Daily Africa, Ventures Africa
Photo: TechIslet

Visually Impaired Students in KenyaNew assistive learning technology will assist 365 blind and visually impaired students at the St. Oda Primary and Secondary School for the Blind in Siaya County, Kenya.

The new technology comes from Computer Labs for the Blind, an initiative created by InAble, Access Kenya and the Rockefeller Foundation. The program works to train blind and visually impaired students and their teachers in basic computer skills, according to It News Africa. The skills taught include Internet access and online education content.

The initiative is targeting almost 1,700 students countrywide. So far four of 11 schools for blind and visually impaired students in Kenya have adopted the technology, according to Voice of America.

The technology costs around $1,000 dollars to install, but InAble is providing it to schools at no cost.

According to InAble, Access Kenya and the Rockefeller Foundation, students developing these skills will be more employable. The education of the blind and visually impaired has faced many challenges. For example, traditionally blind and visually impaired students in Kenya who make it to high school are excluded from sciences because the Kenyan educational system does not recognize them as a viable part of the curriculum.

Executive Director of InAble Kenya, Irene Mbari Kirika, said, “The scarcity of facilities and human capital for the blind and visually impaired have for a long time meant that they cannot compete equally with their sighted peers. They either find it difficult to start an education or complete the same under challenging conditions that make it impossible to build a foundation for self-reliance and contribution to the community, pushing them into begging and other forms of activities for their survival.”

This new assistive technology is a step towards helping overcome the previous obstacles blind and visually impaired students have faced in the past.

A visually impaired student named Luca Mwanzia, age 17, says the technology has opened up new frontiers.

Mwanzia says, “Braille books are quite expensive and you have to use quite a sum to purchase one. But now since we have computers we get the books at virtually no cost. So we download the various books to read and when we are done we just close the program.”

Access Kenya is investing six million Kenyan shillings towards InAble’s project, Assistive Technology Labs. This money will bring online technology to six public and primary schools that cater to the blind and the visually impaired, all within the next 12 months.

Jordan Connell

Sources: It News Africa, Voice of America
Photo: IT News Africa

Trachoma_TreatmentAccording to the International Trachoma Initiative (ITI), trachoma remains the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness. Pfizer Inc., along with several partners has been working to provide critical trachoma treatment, particularly for patients in developing countries.

What is Trachoma?

Trachoma is an infectious disease caused by bacteria. It is spread through contact with eye discharge from an infected person – via hands, towels, sheets and in some cases, eye-seeking flies. The infection thrives in areas with poor sanitation and limited access to water for personal hygiene.

Without treatment, trachoma develops into a condition called trichiasis. Trichiasis causes the upper eyelids to turn inwards and scrape the eyeball, a painful condition that eventually leads to blindness.

In 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 232 million people were at risk of developing trachoma. Studies indicate that trachoma is endemic in 51 countries with more than 80 percent of sufferers concentrated in 14 countries.

To help combat the spread of trachoma, Pfizer along with ITI and the International Coalition for Trachoma Control announced the corporation’s 500 millionth donation of the tablet Zithromax, a trachoma treatment antibiotic used in countries across Africa and Asia.

The partners are working together as part of an Alliance for the Global Elimination of Trachoma by 2020 (GET 2020) led by the WHO. The Alliance is an expansive collaboration of more than 100 governments, non-governmental organizations and private sector partners.

The SAFE Strategy

Together the group has implemented a WHO recommended strategy called SAFE:

Surgery to treat the blinding stage of the disease

Antibiotics to treat infection

Facial cleanliness to help reduce transmission, and

Environmental improvement including access to water and sanitation.

 

ITI pointed out trachoma was once endemic in Europe and the United States. Before the use of antibiotics, trachoma disappeared due to improved living standards.

Today, antibiotic treatment provides a short-term cure, especially when the whole community is treated. However, reinfection can occur, typically within six months if hygiene and the environment don’t improve. For this reason, it is essential that the full SAFE strategy is in place in trachoma-endemic communities.

Paul Emerson, the Director for ITI said, “Trachoma traditionally affects the people at the end of the road, they’re the forgotten people, they are people with a very little political voice. Because trachoma is a hidden disease it is very difficult for people to care. Well, we do care. And we want to reach all of those people.”

Kara Buckley

Sources: Carter Center, Sight Savers, Trachoma Coalition, Trachoma.org
Photo: Google Images

Korea Battles Blindness in Cambodia
When Cambodia fell into chaos and eventual civil war in the 1960s, it lost more than government stability. With war came the loss of reliable healthcare, which left its citizens without proper treatment. Chemical weaponry and blunt force resulted in the widespread development of glaucoma, a buildup of pressure on the eyes that can cause total blindness.

Blindness in Cambodia is especially devastating because of the extensive rice production within the country. Agriculture pulls in a lot of Cambodia’s profit, and many households rely on it for a living. If a family breadwinner is unable to work in the fields, it is difficult to remain above the poverty line.

The Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) has taken action to assist Cambodia‘s efforts in assisting the visually impaired by offering support to the country’s healthcare infrastructure.

The goal of KOICA is “pursuing harmonization with global partners to reduce poverty and improve the quality of life in developing countries.” It is fulfilling this goal in Cambodia by educating Cambodians about glaucoma and other vision impairments. Glaucoma is preventable if treated in time, but awareness and accessibility are lacking. KOICA hopes to change that.

Korea donated $5.5 million to the Cambodian-Korean Friendship Eye Center to the Preah Ang Duong Hospital in Phnom Penh. The eye center contains 52 beds within four stories, as well as high-quality modern equipment.

“The successful operation of this modern Eye Center is expected to contribute to the blind prevention rate, improve eye care services and capacity of the ophthalmic research,” according to the KOICA Cambodia website.

On May 13, Cambodia completed the construction of the new wing. The Cambodian-Korean Friendship Eye Center offers timely treatments to victims of vision impairment. Furthermore, it trains doctors to better diagnose and help their patients.

Sarah Prellwitz

Sources: Global Security, KOICA Cambodia 1, KOICA Cambodia 2, KOICA Cambodia 3, KOICA Cambodia 4, WEBMD,
Photo: Flickr

Smartphone-Eye-Care

Armed with a $20 smartphone and his own ingenuity, Dr. Hong Sheng Chiong, founder of OphthalmicDocs, is fighting preventable blindness.

With 90% of the world’s visually impaired and blind living in developing countries, access to affordable eye care equipment is out of reach for most visually impaired people. OphthalmicDocs seeks to end that struggle by developing inexpensive, effective eye care equipment that allows doctors to diagnose patients properly using a smartphone camera.

After experiencing developing-world medicine and the need for such affordable eye care firsthand in Kenya, Nepal and Malaysia, Dr. Hong worked with a team to develop the OphthalmicDocs Fundus, a universal smartphone retinal imaging adapter. Able to take high-quality retinal images of both the front and back of the eye, the Fundus functions as a portable retinal camera.

In the interest of making the device widely available, OphthalmicDocs created a free 3D printable template of the device that allows anyone to download, print and assemble a Fundus retinal camera within four hours, regardless of their global location.

A device that would ordinarily cost $10,000 is now accessible for a production cost of $33. Working hand-in-hand with developments in affordable smartphone manufacturing and distribution, as well as sites that connect users to 3D printing technology in their region, OphthalmicDocs’ technology has the potential to revolutionize eye care.

OphthalmicDocs also developed an open-source eye care app. This free app offers a variety of visual tests, includes a patient management system and can work with external adapters to acquire ocular images.

Other devices in the works from OphthalmicDocs include a clip-on adapter meant to convert smartphones into slit lamp microscopes and MAGcro, a universal macro lens for use with smartphones and tablets.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 285 million people around the world are visually impaired and 39 million are blind. WHO also found that a staggering 80% of visual impairments arises from preventable causes. However, with global access to free retinal camera technology, these statistics could be phenomena of the past.

– Emma-Claire LaSaine

Sources: Huffington Post, OpthalmicDocs, WHO
Photo: Bionicly

perkins international
People who are blind still have yet to see a world in which they are given the same opportunities as their sighted peers, but there is one organization paving the way for this to happen. Perkins International is a collaborative effort with a mission to provide education and services to those all around the world who are blind or visually impaired.

This progressive, multi-faceted organization works on local, national and global levels in more than 60 countries, joining forces with a number of nonprofits and Disabled Persons Organizations along with academic institutions, foundations and government agencies.

Together they are committed to strengthening disability policies, increasing access to information and assistive technology, expanding education opportunities and transitional outcomes, and building sustainable local capacity.

In addition, there are five areas of focus (distinct lines of businesses) that operate every day to carry out these goals, driven by a team of experts with a passion for actively seeking the next innovative challenge to evolve as an organization.

  1. Perkins School for the Blind – Operates as the headquarters for the Community Services programs including itinerant services, independence courses for public school students, evaluations and assessments for communities, and training for professionals.
  2. Perkins International – Works to develop sustainable capacity in 67 countries via local and on-the-ground partnerships. It provides resources, training and advocacy to improve the lives of 4.5 million children around the world without access to education due to blindness.
  3. Perkins Products – Develops and distributes accessible technology in 170 countries, ranging from the classic mechanical Perkins Brailler to cutting-edge tools like the LightAide. The U.S. Department of Commerce recent presented Perkins Products with the President’s “E” Award, the highest recognition of any U.S. entity may receive for contributing to the increase of American exports.
  4. Perkins eLearning – Serves as an online portal designed to provide resources and support to anyone, anywhere, in the field of blindness education. It offers high-quality webcasts and webinars on a variety of topics, and it provides professional development and graduate level credits to educators via online workshops.
  5. Perkins Library – Considered to be one of our nation’s oldest accessibility services since 1835, this library circulates thousands of items in braille, audio, electronic and large print formats to about 28 thousand patrons in the U.S.

These five focus areas allow people with blindness the accessibility that they need for leverage in a world where opportunities are scarce even for those who have vision.

Recently, Perkins President and CEO Dave Power spoke at TEDxBeaconStreet about how we’re making the world accessible with new innovations in braille technology, facial recognition software and transportation that will help increase independence for people who are blind.

“The technology is pretty exciting, but technology isn’t the biggest barrier,” he said. “We, sighted people, are much more of an obstacle.”

So what can we do to change this?

“We need to make the world more accessible for them,” Power said. “We need to help them access information, navigate from place to place and find their way into our workforce and into our communities.

Chelsee Yee

Sources: Perkins, YouTube
Photo: Perkins

seva foundation
Subas Maya Rai lives in a remote area of Nepal. A few years back she became blind from cataracts in both eyes, and from that point on lived life in a vulnerable and isolated darkness. Having to rely on her husband, she wanted to give up hope, and began waiting for death to take her.

Her husband began hearing news that a Seva-sponsored eye camp would be coming, and together, they made a four-day journey by foot to the camp. The surgery took two days, and after a few days, Subas removed her bandages and was finally able to see again.

Starting out as a gathering of friends and colleagues at the Waldenwoods Conference Center located near Ann Arbor Michigan, The Seva Foundation began as a group of people looking to be of service. The conference was comprised of health professionals and activists who were introduced to Dr. G Venkataswamy, a retired eye surgeon who dreamed of making cataract surgery ubiquitous. Seva was soon born, focused on restorative eyesight methods.

The vision of Seva comprises the promotion of a world of people who are healthy and autonomous.

The Seva Foundation is best known for eyesight restoration to more than 3.5 million people in need of vital eye care service.

They have operated in 20 countries including Bangladesh, sub-Saharan Africa, Cambodia, Nepal and Tibet, and have operated with Native Americans in the United States. They support community outreach to spread awareness of services available for proper eye care. With their Global Sight Initiative, the organization collaborates on an international level to increase the efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability of its 50 partner eye-care institutions around the world. Its methods, in turn, increase the overall productivity and quality of eye-care treatments.

Yet, performing eye surgery requires trained staff/volunteers and up-to-date equipment. In response to the needs of the poor, Seva brings its vision centers to local communities and trains ophthalmologists, ophthalmic assistants and community health workers to use specialized equipment in order to exercise quality care.

The ability to bring people together in service of others is an innate quality of this organization. It stands to serve those who are underserved, and shines a beacon to those stranded in the dark.

– Ashley Riley

Sources: Seva Foundation 1, Seva Foundation 2
Photo: SFGate

blindness
Often, the same terms arise while discussing global poverty and conflict—hunger, disease, clean water, shelter and others. This is to be expected, as poverty everywhere entails a lack of accessibility to the same basic resources necessary for survival. However, survival and health also require many other physical and mental needs that are frequently overlooked, ranging from the rudimentary, such as affection, to the complex, such as medical care and vaccination distribution. The fact that you are able to read these words means you possess a physical trait that thousands unfortunately lack: eyesight.

With the lack of latrines, sufficient nourishment and even clean water, it is understandable that people overlook blindness and vision problems in the fight against international poverty; they are seemingly less exigent problems than a lack of food and protection. However, Combat Blindness International works to restore eyesight and optical health to those in need across four continents.

One man’s “vision” has and continues to permanently touch lives worldwide through various means and methods.

Combat Blindness International was founded in 1984 by Dr. Suresh Chandra, a Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Dr. Chandra is also a council member of Vision 2020: The Right to Sight, a collaborative global effort by the World Health Organization and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness. He was also the recipient of the American Academy of Ophthalmology Outstanding Humanitarian Service Award in 1996. Needless to say, Dr. Chandra is a learned expert in humanitarian ophthalmology efforts.

The initiative began with eye camps at King George’s Medical College in Uttar Pradesh, India. Medical personnel, on a volunteer basis, provided eye care and cataract surgery to about 1,600 patients, and from that point on the group surged in number and influence.

From its inception in 1984, Combat Blindness International has assisted in care at the Sitapur Eye Hospital in Uttar Pradesh and Aravind Eye Hospital in Tamil Nadu, India. It also helped to create Aurolab at the same hospital, where workers produced quality lenses which were sold to nonprofit groups that dispersed them throughout 120 developing countries. Thus, CBI’s breadth of influence multiplied.

Since then, CBI has established the Gujarat Project with the Blind Relief and Health Association and begun World Sight Day, a day of awareness for those living in poverty and suffering from vision impairment worldwide. CBI also began three local eye care projects in Africa, which were followed by similar efforts in India and Paraguay.

For thirty years, CBI has provided eye care and sight restoration free of charge to over 11,000 people in need. The organization has been changing the world’s vision, one set of eyes at a time.

Arielle Swett

Sources: InterAction, Combat Blindness International
Photo: Wired