Chille Liu discusses the high-tech Portable Eye Examination Kit (Peek) introduced in smartphones as an app aims to empower health workers to diagnose eye diseases and provide a low cost alternative for managing and monitoring the treatment of patients.
Having already been supported by various consortium associations such as the International Centre for Eye Health (ICEH), London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Glasgow Centre for Ophthalmic Research, further developments will be made to make Peek more widely available. It is currently being tested in Kenya as a potential tool to revolutionise the prevention of blindness in low-income countries where traditional methods are often out of reach. However, it also hopes to expand to high-income countries, where eye tests could be taken outside of dedicated clinics.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it is estimated today that 180 million people worldwide are visually disabled. Within this total 50 million people are blind or cannot walk. The WHO also estimates 80% of global blindness are avoidable, either where conditions could have been prevented or controlled through available knowledge and if early interventions had been applied.
In reaction to this, the Peek app was developed by award winning team of experts, in eye care, engineering and technology to respond to the idea that existing eye care was too expensive, difficult to use and not always available for people of greatest need. Peek aims to combat blindness by providing quick adequate intervention to diagnose and detect the spread of eye diseases at a fraction of the cost compared to standard equipment currently in use.
In his inspirational speech at the TED conference in Vancouver co-founder Andrew Bastawrous explains how Peek can radically change eye-testing procedures across the world by harnessing mobile phone apps and hardware, thus empowering health doctors specifically in sub-Saharan Africa where it has already made a life-changing impact on patients.
Peek attaches a low cost smartphone adapter which provides high quality images of the back of the eye and the retina, helping to diagnose cataracts, glaucoma and other eye diseases, ready for treatment. It combines both traditional ophthalmoscopes and a retina camera in a mobile phone, providing a portable, affordable and easy way to perform comprehensive examinations without the need of a specialist anywhere in the world. It has already screened 2500 people in Kenya, and incorporates geotagging to facilitate follow up treatment compiled directly into a patient’s record, and assessed by a network of professionals.
Transforming the lives of people affected by cataracts
In eye care clinics like St Mary’s Hospital in Kenya, staff on outreach programmes will use Peek to travel widely to remote locations to diagnose people who require cataract surgery. It is a relatively simple surgery that has a life-changing impact on individuals.
Preventing blindness from diabetes
Community healthcare workers in countries like Tanzania and India will use Peek to spot early signs of people going blind from diabetes. Immediate diagnostic solutions and treatment will be available to save people’s sight before it is too late.
Identifying the appropriate solutions to check signs of Malaria
Doctors working to save the lives of children in coma caused by malaria, meningitis or other diseases in countries like Malia and Malawi will use Peek to scan the back of the eye, and check whether there is brain swelling before deciding on what tests and treatments would be beneficial.
Identifying eyesight problems in schools
In low-income countries where there is only a small number of eye care specialists, identifying and managing eye problems at an early age is pivotal to reducing underachievement and social exclusion of young people from society. Teachers can use Peek to identify pupils with eye problems and refer them for specialist treatment.
Diagnosis can be done remotely
Peek uses geotagging so that medical images can be sent remotely to a doctor. Not only is it fast and efficient but more time can be offered to specialist doctors in hospitals to carry out treatments rather than searching for people in need.
The Future of Peek
Peek offers a spectacular advancement in medical technology that could bring real change to help track and prevent eye diseases. Extensive clinical and field trials have already been completed over the last two years in Kenya, Botswana and Mali. Although it is still in research and testing phases, it is currently being trialled on over 5,000 people in Kenya where doctors have already helped 1000 patients and ongoing. These trials not only scientifically validate the quality of images Peek provides in comparison to existing hospital equipment, but ensure it works effectively in the context of specific locations, and the local healthcare system. In the future, through enhanced development, manufacturing, scientific research and through collaboration with associations will allow Peek the knowledge and funds to expand and produce at a much wider scale.
It is evident that Peek maybe the solution to treating eyes to over 250 million people with visual impairment, in particular those who are residing in low-income developing countries.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.
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