Mobile app eye diagnostic kit undergoes trial in Kenya

The beye
Copyright: Flickr/Wayan Vota

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  • About 90 per cent of people with visual impairments live in developing countries
  • A new mobile app is being trialled in Kenya to diagnose eye problems
  • Researchers are targeting 5,000 people in locations such as schools and clinics

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[NAIROBI] A new optical technology called Portable Eye Examination Kit (Peek) that could help eliminate eye problems and avoidable blindness in low-income countries is being trialled in Kenya.

The WHO estimates that 90 per cent of the more than 385 million people worldwide who are visually impaired live in developing countries.

Andrew Bastawrous, an ophthalmologist and the project leader based at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), says that 80 per cent of blindness is avoidable but “the major obstacle to its elimination is the lack of effective examination, diagnosis and follow-up of eye patients”.

“This mobile app will help to eliminate the ignorance of eye problems among the populace, thus reducing cases of eye disease while at the same time, increase the workload of opticians.”

Phanice Wamukota, Optica, Kenya

The technology, also called Peek Pocket Optician, is a mobile application and clip-on hardware that transforms a low-cost Android smartphone into an eye examination and diagnostic suite, Bastawrous explains.

“Presently, the app has been used on over 2,000 people,” says Bastawrous, noting that early designs of the Peek Pocket Optician prototype were developed and trialled in 2012 in different locations in Kenya’s Nakuru County. The latest design has been undergoing trial since January 2014 in Kitale, Kenya. The target is to reach 5,000 people in 100 locations across Kenya’s expansive Rift Valley, he adds.

According to Bastawrous, the kit will enable quick diagnosis of blindness, visual impairment, cataracts, glaucoma and other retinal and optic nerve diseases.

Bastawrous conceived the Peek Pocket Optician in 2011 after he received a grant from the LSHTM which enabled him to start the project in Kenya.

Phanice Wamukota, an optometrist with Kenya-based eye care company Optica, observes: “This mobile app will help to eliminate the ignorance of eye problems among the populace, thus reducing cases of eye disease while at the same time, increase the workload of opticians”.

The mobile app tool will be used in different settings, including schools, community clinics, eye hospitals and other outreach programmes, according to Bastawrous, who adds that similar trials are to take place in Botswana, India and Tanzania at a date yet to be determined.

Bastawrous explains that the Peek team does not charge individuals whose eyes are examined with the technology partly because the researchers are using the trial as a public service to help the poor. 

Funding for the project mainly comes from multiple sources, such as the UK’s Medical Research Council, the UK Department for International Development and Fight for Sight, a US-based non-profit organisation that promotes eye research. Other funders include the International Glaucoma Association, the British Council for Prevention of Blindness and Seeing is Believing — a UK-based initiative tackling avoidable blindness.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.