“Good news for developing countries. Curing blindness is going mobile,” tweeted Bill Gates in August 2014.
Access to eye care will now be easier and much more affordable for those who need it most. Traditional eye exam equipment (cumbersome optical machines found in most optometrist or ophthalmologist’s offices for instance) requires extensive training to use correctly and it’s heavy, fragile and expensive. PEEK—the Portable Eye Examination Kit—is a new digital tool designed for smartphones that will make eye exams imminently mobile, low cost and very easy to use. Consider the visionary technology akin to a pocket-sized eye doctor’s office.
“People are going blind through preventable or curable conditions, just because they're beyond the end of the tarmac and not easily reachable,” explains Stewart Jordan one of the “tech geeks” behind the project. Current screening clinic equipment is not meant to travel: Peek will change that, Jordan promises. “Those most in need are often the most difficult to reach. Peek helps by providing the tools healthcare workers require to reach those most in need,” he explains.
Now in the midst of an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign (which ends Jan. 9, 2015), the development team is working closely with on-the-ground-partners like Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness to reach patients. Peek’s technological innovation is basic and combines both a traditional ophthalmoscope and a retinal camera in a mobile phone via a clip-on camera adapter that produces high quality images of the back of the eye and the retina. The device can illuminate and help diagnose conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma and other eye diseases. If needed, the high resolution digital image can then be sent to clinicians at a distant location.
Click through to support PEEK: An Indiegogo.com campaign will fund a mobile camera adapter and app that helps diagnose blindness.
Much less intrusive than office-bound equipment (and a solution that does not require a reliable power source), Peek Retina is intended to address a global problem. The statistics are sobering: Currently there are 39 million blind people worldwide and 80% of this blindness is avoidable. Furthermore, 90% of blind people live in low-income countries. The device’s development came out of a large research project in rural Kenya. “We needed to get all of the equipment you would find in an ophthalmology department out to remote rural locations, with bad roads, no power and a whole team of people needed to run them,” Jordan recounts in an exchange with NotImpossibleNow.com. “Realizing the power of the phone in everyone's pocket, we formed a team to make something that would allow anyone, with minimal training, a mobile phone and our low cost Peek Retina adapter to perform high quality examinations anywhere they're needed,” he explains.
A prototype is already in action and has undergone a trial with more than 2,000 participants in Kenya as part of a comprehensive study. Each participant was examined using state of the art hospital equipment performed by an ophthalmologist (eye surgeon) and a team of trained staff. They were separately examined using Peek and the data compared to see how well Peek performed. The results will be published in a peer-reviewed publication, noted Jordan.
The campaign video (above) demonstrates both the need and results of the Peek apparatus. A Kenyan patient named Phillip was blind with cataracts until he was diagnosed in his village with Peek. Just days later, after a simple operation (costing just $40 totally inclusive including all transport, food, overnight in the hospital, all drugs and surgery) he was driven back to his home and able to see his grandson for the first time. The video captures a moving moment and the power and emotion of reclaimed eyesight.