Eyesight in NigeriaAccording to the “World Report on Vision” by the World Health Organization (WHO), about one billion of the approximately 2.2 billion cases of visual impairment or blindness are preventable. Individuals still experience visual impairment because of the financial strain they would face for seeking medical help in sight-related issues. However, Nigeria has improved access to eye care. Considering there are about 4.25 million people over the age of 40 with vision impairment, the topic of eyesight in Nigeria is pertinent. To better understand Nigeria’s story and approach to battling vision impairment, here are some facts about eyesight in Nigeria:

5 Facts About Eyesight in Nigeria

  1. The healthcare system for eyesight in Nigeria is largely unequal for low-income and rural populations. Financially, the cost of eye exams and transportation to eye clinics are not affordable for many Nigerians. Moreover, people in rural communities lack education, information and resources that would better explain the facts behind vision impairment. This is amplified by the lack of trained, dispersed staff who would otherwise introduce the available resources for vision care. Overall, all of these factors disproportionally obstruct people in rural communities from getting the care that they need.
  2. The most common impairments for eyesight in Nigeria include cataracts, glaucoma and other preventable diseases. With early diagnosis, many of these diseases can be corrected with the use of medicines and glasses. Routine check-ups are not a norm in Nigeria. In turn, this has adversely impacted eyesight for many Nigerians. As a result, conducting studies, spreading awareness and international pressure have led Nigeria and other developing countries to create task forces that specifically focus on access to vision care.
  3. From 2005 to 2007, the “National Blindness and Visual Impairment Survey” was conducted to measure eyesight in Nigeria. This was the first survey to calculate vision data of individuals over 40 in the country. The survey results helped the state mobilize appropriate resources towards vision rehabilitation. Additionally, the study provided data for international initiatives, such as the World Health Organization’s “Vision 2020: The Right to Sight,” that also hope to alleviate impaired vision.
  4. WHO and The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) launched “Vision 2020: The Right to Sight” in 1999. Over the past two decades, this project made eye care a primary public health issue. The project set a target to reduce avoidable visual impairment by 25 percent by 2019. Nigeria’s participation in Vision 2020 allowed it to increase vision care accessibility for low-income individuals. Due to Nigeria’s overwhelming success in vision care, it has established eye care standards that other developing countries are striving to achieve.
  5. Companies, such as VisionSpring, help to provide eyewear to low-income communities around the world. VisionSpring sees the earning potential of an individual with the proper eyewear. From being able to see course work as a student to being able to drive safely as an adult, there are many possibilities in adequate eyewear. The average cost of glasses that address nearsightedness in Nigeria is around $0.85 per pair. As of 2018, VisionSpring has distributed about 6.8 million glasses to 43 countries. The impact of companies that are focusing on affordable prices for underserved communities has been enormous in the effort to alleviate global vision impairment.

Eyesight is fundamental to the quality of life and productivity of an individual. Nonetheless, eye care still does not garner as much attention it should in low and middle-income countries. Fortunately, international organizations, companies and efforts from individual countries, like Nigeria, have emerged to ensure better access to eyesight for vulnerable populations.

Ashleigh Litcofsky
Photo: Flickr

vision care in developing countries
DIFF is a sunglass company in Southern California that emerged in 2014. DIFF began with the intention of challenging the norm and doing good in the world. It has partnered with many charities over the years to help supply vision care in developing countries.

The Need for Vision Care in Developing Countries

Over one billion people in developing countries suffer from presbyopia. Presbyopia typically starts around the age of 40 and causes a gradual loss of close-up vision. For people in developing or impoverished countries, having clear vision is incredibly important in the workforce, especially if the jobs include skills like sewing, weaving and carving. About 2.5 billion people worldwide need eyeglasses to see clearly but are unable to access them. As many as 239 million children live with uncorrected vision. A lack of access to vision care puts another obstacle in the way of children in school without the ability to read easily and inhibits the ability of those in the workforce to do their jobs.

Eyeglasses for Everyone

For every pair of glasses that DIFF sells, it donates a pair of reading glasses to someone in need. DIFF partnered with many charities over the years to achieve this, including its original partner, Eyes on Africa. Eyes on Africa is a nonprofit organization that emerged in 2005 that provides eyeglasses to those in Africa who lack access to vision care. Through this partnership alone, DIFF has provided glasses to over 20,000 people in need. Restoring Vision is another organization DIFF has partnered with. Restoring Vision is the largest nonprofit provider of reading glasses to people living in poverty. Through DIFF’s partnership with Restoring Vision, it has helped over 150,000 people improve their vision.

Vision Care for All

DIFF has also partnered with an organization called SVOSH. SVOSH is a student chapter of the larger Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (VOSH). Under this organization, groups of optometry students provide eye exams to impoverished communities in developing countries. It also provides visual assistance and treatments for visual ailments with the help of DIFF’s funding. Projections determined that this partnership would provide vision aid to over 10,000 people around the world in 2017.

The necessity for vision aid is a facet of poverty that people often overlook, but should not neglect. Providing vision care to people in developing countries, whether that be optometry visits or providing a pair of reading glasses, can change the lives of those 2.5 billion people in need of vision aid. Accessible vision care will help millions of children struggling in school in developing countries. According to research, giving a child the appropriate vision aid is beneficial to the equivalent of an extra six months of schooling. Giving people in poverty the gift of sight makes work easier to find and to keep.

Amanda Gibson
Photo: PeakPx

VisionSpring Supports Women While Spreading SightFor every $5 donated to VisionSpring, a low-income adult gets their eye prescription, a pair of glasses expected to last two years, and an estimated 120 percent increase from their initial income directly due to the glasses. This organization’s strategy zeroes in on the local: optometrists; female vision entrepreneurs as saleswomen; wholesale partnerships with government agencies, local hospitals and NGOs; and corporate social responsibility projects with large businesses. VisionSpring supports women, local business and helps create sustainable supply chains in the countries it works in.

Jordan Kassalow is the founder and visionary behind this organization that has already generated over $1.2 billion of economic impact. In 2019, he published his book “Dare to Matter,” in which he describes his journey. Starting as a mediocre student due to a rare eye disease, he had a post-graduation epiphany that people’s lives have meaning through their work to make the world better. While on a volunteer medical mission in the Yucatán Peninsula, Jordan gave an extremely nearsighted child a pair of glasses – and his sight.

Seven years later, Dr. Kassalow founded what would become VisionSpring today, to return productivity and livelihoods to the 2.5 billion sight-impaired people in the world who lack glasses. From the beginning, the organization has sought to empower women in the communities where it works. The Borgen Project interviewed Dr. Kassalow about how VisionSpring supports women in its sight-focused mission.

When you first had people on the ground, how did you reach people – and specifically women – to let them know about the vision entrepreneur opportunity?

There are a few reasons why we select women. One was because there was a higher rate of unemployment or underemployment with women. So, they are a natural, existing workforce that was underutilized. That was the whole root of the idea, to create livelihoods for the women and sustain livelihoods for their customers. (Microcredit research) showed pretty clearly that when you gave women access to resources that a lot of virtuous things started happening in society: their fertility rates would go down, the health of their children would go up, their housing conditions would go up and so forth.

We partnered with microcredit organizations and eye hospitals (for more advanced cases and to) give some credibility to the women who worked for us. The microcredit organizations were already in the communities where we worked (and) had a whole list of good customers who had exhibited their capacity to pay back their loans. So, it was largely through local credit organizations that we started identifying women and continued to source people.

I read in your book about one vision entrepreneur, Rama Devi, who has her husband driving her on a motorcycle so she can reach more people. It seems to upset traditional gender roles and has vision entrepreneurs stepping out of their traditional jobs at home (and) making more money than their husbands. Did you ever see any conflict of interest or anything like that?

Particularly in that area of India where we were working which had a Muslim culture primarily. It was somewhat antithetical to the historical-cultural norms for women to take on these more entrepreneurial roles, so we lost some of our best salespeople. We found that women would come, educated, supported somewhat by their husbands and fathers-in-law. But there seemed to be almost an expectation that they wouldn’t succeed. So, they would let them (work) while the stakes were low. But for those who would start to succeed, and the money would start to flow in, we saw many cases where they had to withdraw from the program, not because of a lack of their interest, but because of pressure from their husbands or fathers or so forth. So, we definitely did experience that.

I wanted to ask how (the See to Learn) strategy of providing glasses to schoolkids differs from adults. What initially drew you to this sector of the population?

I’ve always looked at vision as an input to global development and human development. The two areas most impacted by poor vision are productivity in work and learning in school. When you start an organization that has basically no human and financial resources, it’s good to try to take the really big problem and break it down to its component parts and strategically start with the place (that) execution-wise is the simplest. So, we started with See to Earn because it only required four different prescriptions.

Now, in kids, there is no similar corollary to simple, ready-made non-prescription reading glasses. Each kid has their own unique kids’ glasses (and) unique prescription, so it gets more complicated and you need higher trained people.

What we do is training teachers to do the work of the vision entrepreneur. (They do) the vision acuity test and figure who can pass and fail. And kids who fail, which in India is usually about 10 percent, get seen by a team of (local) optometrists who come once all those kids are identified. We can make about 70 percent of those glasses on the spot and (the rest) we custom make in the lab.

You mention in a 2017 interview with Mary Magistad from PRI that you encountered the issue of girls thinking they are less marriageable if they wear glasses. How have you amended your practice to account for cultural differences in the different countries you’ve worked in?

The cultural context is very important in our local operations. Particularly with girls, we find that almost the parents look for an excuse to take them out of school. If they are nearsighted and not thriving in school, they’ll be pulled out of school more quickly than the boys will. That’s a huge injustice.

Studies have shown that girls in India believe that, if you wear glasses, you are less marriable. We recently did a film that tracks a girl through identifying that she can’t see all the way to getting glasses and using them in school. We are trying to normalize, if you will, glasses through this film. It’s meant to be used as part of the curriculum before the team of optometrists comes to the school.

Dr. Kassalow’s newest breakthrough was the founding of EYElliance, a multinational coalition working towards integrating innovations into public and private sectors of countries around the world. Currently, with more than 40 member organizations (including USAID), EYElliance is Dr. Kassalow’s next big step towards achieving his original goal: getting eyeglasses to everyone who needs them. Hopefully, Kassalow’s ongoing priority that VisionSpring supports women will demonstrate to other international aid organizations that women are the building blocks to international development.

Daria Locher
Photo: Wikimedia

The Future of PeekThe world is experiencing a vision crisis. In total, over 200 million people around the world are visually impaired, and 7 million people develop blindness every single year. One-third of those who seek help and health care for their eyes are unable to obtain it. Developing countries are the most at risk, with 90 percent of individuals suffering from vision impairment living in underdeveloped nations. The organization Peek is seeking to change this, and the future of Peek could mean health care for everyone.

What is Peek?

Peek is proof that great things often come from small ideas. The organization began as a simple, developing research project in the International Centre for Eye Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Now, Peek consists of two entities: The Peek Vision Foundation, an official charity in the United Kingdom, and Peek Vision Ltd, a manufacturing company that develops medical devices for people all over the world.

Peek began with smartphone apps and hardware that provided affordable and accessible eye examination kits that could be used in every home, school and community. This hardware, the Portable Eye Examination Kit (PEEK), was used in 50 schools in Kenya in 2015 to evaluate 20,000 children who otherwise would have been left in the dark concerning their eye health. Further, Peek’s individual products, Peek Acuity, the smartphone app that examines vision, and Peek Retina, a portable ophthalmoscope that captures detailed images of the retina, are currently being used in over 150 countries around the world.

The Future of Peek

Now, Peek is moving beyond portable eye examination kits and onto how technology can play a role in making sure health care is readily available for everyone, everywhere. Concerning Peek’s future journey, Daisy Barton, head of communications and PR at Peek, wrote, “Today, we’ve moved beyond developing and validating our basic technology to building software systems that capture the information from smartphone-based eye health screening and surveys. To bring better vision and health to everybody, we need to understand where people fall through the gaps when trying to access eye care and how eye care providers can ensure their systems improve.”

Their smartphone-based eye care kits laid the foundation and proved that there was a viable way to test vision anywhere in the world using only a smartphone. Now, Peek is building upon that foundation to ensure nobody gets left behind when it comes to vision health.

Tracking Universal Health Care

Universal health coverage seems like a tall order, but Peek is following the lead of organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and Global Goals for Sustainable Development to make it possible. For example, officials from the WHO along with the United Nations are working to develop specific indicators of health that enable different countries to mark their growth and advancements along their journeys toward universal health care. These indicators cover a variety of topics concerning different aspects of health. While the official list of indicators will not be announced until later in 2019, a preliminary list announced that there would be at least two indicators involving eye health.

Part of the struggle in making universal health care a reality is the impracticality of measuring every single aspect of a country’s health coverage; however, Peek is playing an important role in overcoming this challenge. Peek is using their smartphone-based software to provide countries and organizations with raw data that can be used to help develop certain health care indicators. This data allows health services to analyze and evaluate statistics pertinent to making universal health care a reality. Barton said this information includes “who is attending treatment, where they are based, and what the outcome is.”

Peek, along with the development of the rapid assessment of avoidable blindness eye health survey, is using and developing advanced technology and software to measure the aforementioned vision indicators as well as to develop treatments in a cost-effective, accurate and practical way. Their work will be fundamental in ensuring universal health care and improved vision worldwide.

With members of Peek all over the world, and offices in England, Pakistan, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Botswana, it is only a matter of time before Peek’s vision of eye care and universal health care is achieved. The future of Peek along with their groundbreaking work will ensure that those who so often fall between the cracks will no longer be left behind.

– Melissa Quist
Photo: Flickr

PEEK Software Making Eye Care Easy
Approximately two billion people struggle with impaired eyesight. However, many people in remote areas of developing countries go without vision care because of the high cost and lack of access to medical facilities. According to the Center for Vision in the Developing World, “The developing world cannot yet support the conventional optical industry’s business model.” This is where Peek Vision‘s Portable Eye Examination Kit smartphone software can be instrumental in bringing vision care to impoverished areas.

Once the software is installed, multiple apps on the phone can be used to screen the patient’s eyesight. The smartphone is also paired with a lens adapter to take high-quality photos of the patient’s eyes. Peek Vision states that the apps can view the retina with high-quality imaging, see cataracts clearly for classification, simulate a patient’s eyesight on screen, conduct visual acuity tests as well as color and contrast tests. Before placing it on the market, PEEK software have been tested to ensure accuracy.

Between December 2013 and March 2014, Peek Vision CEO Dr. Andrew Bastawrous conducted an experiment that included 233 participants in central Kenya who suffered from Nakuru eye disease. Half of the participants were given multiple eye tests in a clinic and the other half were tested at home with the Peek Acuity app, one of the multiple apps in the Portable Eye Examination Kit. The results showed that the Peek Acuity app did just as well as the more expensive and extensive tests available in the clinics.

Just in 2015, the app was used in 50 schools in Kenya to screen 20,000 children in a span of two weeks. The app found that 900 of children tested were visually impaired. These children were unaware of this before the screening. Peek reports, “By using Peek, teachers were able to identify pupils who needed help and ensure they were referred for specialist treatment.” Without the app, these children could have possibly gone on longer without receiving vision care.

PEEK software also has the ability to create a database of patients. The photos, diagnosis, personal information and location of the patient can be securely stored in a database. This makes follow-ups easier. Also, it allows for patients to get glasses, medication and other needs to better their vision quickly since their information is readily available.

By turning a smartphone into a vision screening device, the Portable Eye Examination Kit is allowing for easier, cheaper and faster testing for people in remote and or impoverished areas.

Karla Umanzor

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

Global_Visual_Impairment
Martin Aufmuth has created an innovative solution to global visual impairment. In 2012, he founded OneDollarGlasses, an association that manufactures spectacles for just $1. First piloted in Uganda, OneDollarGlasses has since expanded to Rwanda, Malawi, Ethiopia, Benin, Brazil, Burkina Faso and Bolivia.

According to the World Health Organization, 153 million people worldwide have impaired vision. Ninety percent of those with impaired vision live in developing countries where trained optometrists are few and glasses, too expensive. Left uncorrected, impaired vision can become a major impediment to people’s performances in work and education.

Through OneDollarGlasses, opticians are able to travel to remote areas of developing regions where the consequences of vision impairment are most greatly felt.

Opticians are equipped with all that they need in just a 30 x 30 x 30 centimeters box (11 x 11 x 11 inches). The box contains 25 durable, polycarbonate lenses of varying strengths and a “bending machine” that shapes steel frames on-site.

After conducting an eye test, opticians can match a person with a pair of lenses that are manually inserted into the frames. The ease of this process facilitates the future replacement of lenses should a person’s vision change.

The low-maintenance bending machine lies at “the core” of OneDollarGlasses, says Aufmuth on his website. No electricity is necessary, and a single pair of glasses can be manufactured onsite in 10-30 minutes.

Opticians themselves are required to attend an intensive 14-day training on how to use the equipment. Afterward, they are free to run their businesses independently.

For Aufmuth’s work, OneDollarGlasses was the 2013 recipient of the Siemens Foundation’s award for “simple technology that empowers people” as well as the 2015 Tech Award in San Jose, California.

The Centre for Vision in the Developing World states that eyesight “will be one of the world’s top 10 health issues in terms of productivity and opportunities” by 2030. OneDollarGlasses is helping the developing world to see a brighter future.

Jocelyn Lim

Sources: The Centre for Vision in the Developing World, Martin Aufmuth, The Guardian, The Independent, The New Scientist, World Health Organization 1, World Health Organization 2
Picture: Flickr

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

medical_device

Oculostaple is a tool that is designed to restore vision in people with drooping eyelids, or ptosis. Ptosis can have any number of causes, from Myasthenia gravis (an autoimmune, neuromuscular disorder) to a stroke, a tumor, or simply old age.

It was designed by undergraduate students at Georgia Tech, Drew Padilla, Jacki Borinski, and Mohamad Ali Najia. Najia is now the CEO of the Oculostaple company.

The device works by simultaneously cutting away excess muscle and sealing up the cut that it creates. Before, correcting the issue was the result of a surgery that took about 45 minutes in an operating room. With Oculostaple, drooping eyelids can be resolved with local anesthesia in a doctor’s office, in a procedure that lasts about five minutes. It will also decrease the cost of each individual surgery by about $5,000.

Due to its impressive features, the Oculostaple recently received second place in the National Institute of Health Design by Biomedical Undergraduate Teams (DEBUT) Challenge. The award, given to undergraduate students, was based on the impact the new invention would have on clinical care, the significance of the problem being addressed, the ingenuity of the design, and the creation of a prototype.

It’s not widely available just yet – the Oculostaple team is working with the Global Center for Medical Innovation (GCMI) to create it into a marketable medical device that will eventually be completely disposable.

GCMI is a nonprofit organization that brings together players in the medical device community to help “enhance their product development, shorten time to market, and potentially achieve significant cost savings” in the process of bringing the devices to market. Oculostaple also won first place last year at Georgia Tech’s fall Capstone Design Expo, and second place at its Inventure Prize competition.

While 200,000 Americans undergo surgery to correct drooping eyelids each year, the possibilities for this new device extend far beyond helping Americans be able to see better (and drive safer). Ophthalmologists throughout the medical community are excited for the device, which will make this surgery easy to perform. As the Oculostaple website states, it “also has broad applicability in laparoscopic, gastrointestinal, and biopsy procedures.”

Imagine the possibilities in treating diseases in poorer countries with the creation of technology like this. Gastrointestinal problems are common in third world countries, as people don’t always have access to clean water. Oculostaple could mean safer, faster, cheaper, and more effective treatment for a wide range of problems.

This surgical clamp removes the problem that sometimes occurs in eyelid surgery: the doctors accidentally cut their own sutures as they are trying to cut off excess muscle. Now, both parts of the procedure can be done simultaneously.

In an interview with Charlie Bennett, Najia described the process of how the device came to be, from the beginning, running tests on microwaved pieces of chicken skin, to redesigning the concept again and again, to being halfway out of the stadium with his teammates when their first place at their school’s Capstone competition was announced. Through it all, he said, “I think it’s been a very worthwhile endeavor.”

The development of a revolutionary device is an excellent example of how people throughout the medical community are working everyday to make a healthier world. Whether they are seasoned medical professionals or undergraduate students, they can make a difference, and they are.

Emily Dieckman

Sources: Devices, NIH, Georgia Institute of Technology, News Medical, North Avenue Lounge, Oculostaple
Photo: Flickr

Smartphone App for Affordable, Accessible Eye Exams
Vision and eye health is undeniably vital to individual health. Visual incapacitates are debilitating not only for personal health but for economic opportunity as well.

Despite the importance of eye health, provision of visual health care is severely lacking in many developing countries. Much of the statistical data points to a link between poverty and vision impairment. Poverty has been shown to precipitate visual impairment, and such impairments can then cause loss of financial opportunity as well as expenditure on healthcare.

Visual healthcare is generally costly, and this leads to a lapse in treatment. An estimated 80 percent of blindness cases globally are preventable, given proper care. In the United States, the high costs of eye healthcare result in almost half of adults requiring these facilities to forego them. Putting off necessary eye exams for financial reasons hinders the early diagnosis of potential health concerns, as well as their timely treatment.

These issues of costly eye healthcare are relevant in places where visual health is accessible at all. In developing countries, access to an ophthalmologist or professional care can be fairly limited. On a global average, there are only 30 ophthalmologists per million people; in resource-poor countries, this number can be as low as one eye doctor per one million persons.

The efforts to seek a solution to this problem have unsurprisingly revolved around Internet and cellphone technology. With the advent of medical services offered through smartphone apps and webpages, smartphone technology is making an impact in the field of visual healthcare as well. Peek (Portable Eye Examination Kit) visions is one such smartphone app. Winner of the 2014 Digital Design award by the London Design Museum, the app features enhanced capabilities and features that make this app the next best thing to an eye doctor visit.

The app can diagnose a variety of common visual health concerns, from cataracts and glaucoma to retinopathy and nerve disease. The app uses the Peek Retina accessory, which goes over the built-in cellphone camera. The camera in the phone can then show the retina imaging when held over someone’s eye.

The retinal imaging can be stored and shared with a healthcare professional through the app’s database. Diagnosis and further information on the patient can also be stored in their database. The app also offers Peek SightSim, which is an innovative vision testing program. This eye test is like a vision test in an ophthalmologist’s office, but it doesn’t rely solely on recognition of English letters. The app can then show the doctor an adjusted image of how his patient can see, according to the test administered. The images can also be geotagged, to assist physician follow up.

Currently, one healthcare worker can assist 1,000 patients per week, as per clinical trials. The app is being further enhanced to make it even more affordable and accessible. The adapter for retinal imaging has been made quite small and portable. The current specifications allow for untrained people to assess certain visual ailments, including myopia and far-sightedness.

The Peek Vision team has started a campaign to fund further research and clinical trials to make the app more efficient. Donors can also choose to fund specific regions in desperate need of visual healthcare.

Additional refining of the app and the details of its usage is crucial for the success of the app; however, the very development of this app has brought us a step closer to combating preventable blindness globally.

Atifah Safi

Sources: International Council of Ophthalmology, Amazon, Peek Vision
Photo: Eye Clinic Of Austin