By Charlotte Vystavel
In today’s society, technology has grown in dominance into an entity that the majority of the world heavily depends on. Though there are negative implications of the human attachment to electronic devices, these devices have the ability to do far more than we are aware of. In this case, they have the power to make health care more accessible worldwide. This is illustrated with the invention of Peek, a smartphone application that tests eyesight and empowers healthcare workers, especially in developing countries.
In 2014, there were an estimated 39 million blind people on our planet, according to Dr. Andrew Bastawrous, ophthalmologist from London U.K. In a TED talk, filmed March 2014, Bastawrous explained that 80% of these people live in low-income countries and are blind from diseases that are “either completely curable or preventable.”
One disease we have discussed in class is a disease called Onchocerciasis, or River Blindness, which is caused by a parasitic worm. When a disease renders a person blind in a developing country where there is limited access to health care, there are few options or actions to take. Yet, Bastawrous and a team of healthcare workers created an innovation that could lessen the burden of such diseases.
PEEK is a “portable eye examination kit” that uses an application and simple adaptors to mobilise an eye clinic, making eye care accessible regardless of a person’s proximity to a clinic. People who live far from a city with healthcare are usually the people who are the most in need of it. Therefore, mobilising healthcare is a fundamental step in improving health situations for such populations.
The test starts with a ‘Visual Acuity Test’ that quickly evaluates a person’s sight, and is followed by a closer inspection through using the ‘Retina Adaptor’, which looks at the back of the eye.
Having lived in the south of Spain, where eye care is of top quality, I have personally had my eyes checked, which consisted of a process where I was able to see the back of my eye. The process was long and my optometrist used many fancy devices. Essentially, I could have done the same test using my iPhone and this application.
Bastawrous mentions in the Ted talk, “more people in Kenya, and in sub-Saharan Africa, have access to a mobile phone than they do to clean running water.” Though this is a startling assertion, it may not be far from true. Having visited Kenya and spent substantial amount of time in Uganda multiple times, clean water is truly scarce, yet the accessibility of a mobile phone is surprisingly high. Therefore, I could not be able to debunk his statement.
By using a mobile telephone, a device that is so commonly acquired and used, we are able to improve the access to healthcare in developing countries. Though I would usually be skeptical over the true accuracy of technology as opposed to traditional methods, this Ted talk has changed my view on the power of technology as a tool for improving healthcare.
PEEK follows the principle of going to the patient rather than the patient struggling to find healthcare. Bastawrous claims they are able to “give [the patients] the most comprehensive, high-tech, accurate examination, which can be delivered by anyone with minimal training.” Though I find this innovation successful, there is a substantial lack of explanation as to what happens next.
According to Bastawrous, after the evaluation that the person needs treatment, PEEK is able to “use text messaging services to explain that [they’re] coming to arrange a treatment.” However, there is no mention of where this treatment will take place and the cost. Cost, as we have learned in class, is a hugely limiting factor to receiving appropriate healthcare. The cost also includes the opportunity cost, of the person leaving to attend to health matters and perhaps missing work or caring for children.
Although I believe this innovation is a great success, it fails to address the difficulties of providing actual treatment to the people. Cost is a dominant factor in healthcare treatment. The device costs $500, which would be an investment on a durable good, but the subsequent treatment will likely be sufficiently more expensive.
PEEK successfully addresses the lack of access to eye care facilities in rural, developing areas, and therefore is a productive innovation that makes healthcare mobile and accessible. Yet, there are many questions regarding the treatment that must be addressed and answered in order to complete the care and successfully treat a patient. It is a great start to battling the issue of blindness and visual impairment, but it is only a start.
Bastawrous. 2015. 24 February 2016 <http://www.peekvision.org>.
Get Your Next Eye Exam on a Smartphone. By Andrew Bastawrous.
Onchocerciasis. 2016. 24 February 2016