Eye-Phone Set to Revolutionize Eye Care

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Simon Kamau, 26, has been in almost constant pain since he was a playful three-year-old and accidentally pierced his eye with a sharp object, but smartphone technology now offers hope.

His family live in an impoverished part of rural Naivasha in Kenya's Rift Valley region and could not afford the 80-kilometer (50-mile) journey to the nearest specialist hospital, leaving the young Kamau blind in one eye ever since.

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Today, 23 years later, Kamau has a chance to better his quality of life thanks to a team of doctors from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine armed with an innovative, low cost, smartphone solution.

"Kenya was a natural test location," the project's team leader, Dr Andrew Bastawrous, told AFP. "For a country with a population of more than 40 million, there are only 86 qualified eye doctors, 43 of whom are operating in the capital Nairobi."

The equipment used in the study, which has been running for five years and is now in its final stages, is a smartphone with an add-on lens that scans the retina, plus an application to record the data.

The technology is deceptively simple to use and relatively cheap: each 'Eye-Phone', as Bastawrous likes to call his invention, costs a few hundred euros (dollars), compared to a professional ophthalmoscope that costs tens of thousands of euros and weighs in at around 130 kilograms (290 pounds).

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Bastawrous said he hopes the 'Nakuru Eye Disease Cohort Study', which has done the rounds of 5,000 Kenyan patients, will one day revolutionize access to eye treatment for millions of low-income Africans who are suffering from eye disease and blindness.

With 80 percent of the cases of blindness considered curable or preventable, the potential impact is huge.

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