When he was at primary school in the UK, Andrew Bastawrous was a curious and intelligent pupil. Nevertheless, he used to get very bad marks at school. The mystery was solved at the age of 12 when an eye test showed he was suffering from serious vision impairment. Wearing glasses enabled him to improve his results and set himself a goal for the future: to help people who have difficulty gaining access to medical examinations.
He achieved this commitment with the invention of the Portable Eye Examination Kit, also known as “Peek”, an application and device that can transform any smartphone into a portable ophthalmological clinic. The pioneering nature of his project led to Rolex giving him the Rolex Award for Enterprise in 2016.
There are 36 million people all over the world who are unable to see, and nearly 90% of them live in developing countries. Furthermore, 80% of them are blind for reasons that are either curable or can be prevented. An early diagnosis could change these people’s lives. “I feel this is deeply unfair. Having grown up in the UK, I felt guilty and angry that I’d had access to things that a lot of people don’t,” admits Andrew, who is now determined to do everything he can to change this situation.
This device even makes it possible to look inside the eye with a phone and obtain reliable information, which can be shared with specialists who then evaluate whether or not the person needs treatment.
After becoming an ophthalmologist and eye surgeon, in 2012 he moved to Kenya (together with his wife and young son) to try and help people in rural areas with eyesight problems. He had high hopes of achieving his ambitions, but Africa set him more challenges than he had anticipated. He tried to supply communities with the professional equipment found in the best hospitals but found that transporting it and putting it into operation was a complicated business. There were dirt tracks that were practically unusable and localities with no electricity.
However, what Bastawrous did notice, was that despite their poor infrastructure, all these places had mobile phone coverage. He then had the idea of replacing all that expensive equipment with smartphones which could carry out high-quality eyesight tests without the need for specialised expertise. “I thought it should be easy to recreate the tests we carry out in clinics on a smartphone. The idea was to simplify the process so that anybody could do the tests in any location,” he explains.
A key peek
This device soon became widespread in areas where a visit to the ophthalmologist had previously been unthinkable. The initiative was an overwhelming success. In the first nine days of Peek Vision being trialled, with the help of teachers in these rural areas, examinations were conducted on 21,000 students and 900 cases of eyesight problems were detected.
A particularly touching story was that of Mama Phillip, a 60-year-old woman who was examined thanks to this innovative technology. She had become blind twenty years previously. She was lethargic, extremely thin, and her family thought she had dementia. Yet when she was examined, the diagnosis revealed she had cataracts. Her condition was cured thanks to a simple surgical procedure.
I thought it should be easy to recreate the tests we carry out in clinics on a smartphone. The idea was to simplify the process so that anybody could do the tests in any location.
“This device even makes it possible to look inside the eye with a phone and obtain reliable information, which can be shared with specialists who then evaluate whether or not the person needs treatment,” says Bastawrous. It detects cataracts, glaucoma and other problems, and sends a notification to the nearest health centre. The smartphone’s camera can also simulate how the subject of the test sees the world. This can help parents to understand why their child may need treatment.
Peek Vision is a pioneering tool, whichever way you look at it! Its cost is barely one hundredth of the amount needed for standard equipment, and it’s also powerful, accurate and portable. Training to carry out the test takes just a few minutes. It can therefore by used by people who have no specialist training in eyesight treatment.
Thanks to his Rolex Award, Bastawrous will be able to enlarge the project and establish a centre of excellence and training for Peek in Kitale, Kenya. In addition, his initiative has also been extended to Botswana, Tanzania and India, and has generated a database and report archive so that health services can suggest long-term improvements to beat this global crisis of eyesight loss. “I can’t believe that we live in a world where we are technically capable of providing treatment and yet don’t actually do so. It’s totally unfair!” admits the ophthalmologist. But he's not stopping there: his greatest wish is to make this life-improving technology available to everybody.
- This article was created in partnership with:
- Forbes Argentina