UK, Kenyan doctors develop phone app to detect blindness

A child undergoes an eye check up during a Lions Club’s free medical camp at Barkorwa Primary School Seme in Kisumu in July last year. PHOTO | TOM OTIENO

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in collaboration with Kenyan doctors has developed a smartphone app that will be used for eye examination to help address cases of visual impairment among schoolchildren.

The app dubbed PEEK (Portable Eye Examination Kit) will be used to screen 350,000 children in Trans Nzoia County in the next three years, with a plan to scale it up to the rest of the country through the Standard Chartered Bank’s Seeing is Believing sponsorship.

PEEK uses smartphone technology to look inside the eye and carry out various tests including visual acuity, colour and lens vision as well as retinal imaging.

“Already 21,000 school-going children in Trans Nzoia have been screened using PEEK out of which 900 were found visually impaired and were referred for treatment at the Kitale County Hospital Eye Unit,” said Hillary Rono, the hospital’s ophthalmologist and PEEK co-founder during the launch in Nairobi.

Dr Rono said out of the 2.5 million people in Trans Nzoia, 80 per cent have eye problems that if not checked would lead to avoidable blindness. He said five in every 1,000 people in the region are blind.

Dr Rono said the disparity between demand for childhood eye services and health personnel was what informed the innovation, which can be used by teachers with minimal training.

The child’s detected impaired vision and the actual vision difference is shown on the phone’s screen while a parent and the school head teacher receive an automatic SMS asking them to present the child for treatment.

“Technology alone is not the solution because it needs people to drive its effectiveness.

“If visual impairment is not identified and managed at an early age, it can result to under-achievement in school and possible societal exclusion later in life,” said Dr Rono.

Standard Chartered Bank chief executive, Lamin Manjang, said the lender has helped to restore sight to more than 8,000 children in collaboration with Operation Eyesight and Christian Blind Mission. The project has a target to reach 120 million people globally.

Mr Manjang said the bank has focused on restoring eyesight since 2002 as a way of giving back to community.

“Our initial target was to restore the sight of 29,000 people but since the programme has grown and scaled up we intend to reach another 120 million people globally,” he said.

The bank has injected $350,000 (Sh35 million) in the three-year programme to screen pupils in 350 schools in Trans Nzoia.

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