Did you know that 285 million people suffer from blindness or poor eyesight? More shocking: Many times, all they need is a pair of glasses or simple cataract surgery. The problem is that 90 percent of those affected live in developing countries that have only a handful of ophthalmologists, who often work in major cities and are impossible to reach from remote villages.
Andrew Bastawrous may have a solution. The 34-year-old ophthalmologist from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine invented the Portable Eye Examination Kit, or PEEK, a mobile app and clip-on hardware that transforms a smartphone into a pocket-size optical clinic. He recently launched a pilot study involving 5,000 people in Nakuru, Kenya, which is scheduled to wrap up in March. Hoping to make PEEK available around the world, Bastawrous is also planning trials in Tanzania, Botswana and India.
In Nakuru, Bastawrous will compare PEEK’s photos to those taken by state-of-the-art hospital equipment that costs around $160,000 and requires a team of trained personnel to operate. In contrast, an eye specialist with minimal training can use PEEK — which costs only about $500 — to gather detailed information. The phone screen displays a simple vision test (expected to hit app stores next month) while the camera scans the eye for cataracts. Meanwhile, the camera’s flashlight can be used to check for glaucoma and other diseases. PEEK also stores contact information and GPS data for each patient, which can then be emailed to doctors. For now the app works only on Androids, but Bastawrous plans to make PEEK available across platforms.