A new app that turns a smartphone into a mobile eye clinic could prevent hundreds of thousands of people going blind.
The Portable Eye Examination Kit (PEEK) has been developed by doctors in London and Glasgow to help diagnose serious eye conditions in the developing world.
Around 39 million people around the globe are blind, 90% of them in low income countries. But 80% of cases could be avoided if health workers could reach them with affordable equipment.
Standard ophthalmology kit is bulky and costs more than £100,000.
But cameras and processing chips on smartphones costing £300 are now so good that they can provide equally good results.
The system is already being tested in Kenya, where 1,000 patients have so far received treatment after being diagnosed by the app.
Trained health workers first assess a patient’s vision by flashing progressively smaller letters onto the screen.
They then use the camera to check the lens of the eye for cloudy cataracts.
By attaching a special clip to the camera and switching on the flash they are then able to check the retina at the back of the eye for diseases such as diabetic retinopathy.
The images can be sent back to a hospital for assessment, along with the precise GPS coordinates of the patient’s location so they can be found later and treated.
Mirriam Waithara, who lives in a remote village, had been blind for many years. But a health worker using the app diagnosed cataracts which she had removed in a straightforward operation.
She can now see and is overjoyed.
Dr Ian Livingstone who is involved in the project, told Sky News: “It’s staggeringly simple and I’m amazed it hasn’t been done sooner. It’s a convergence of technologies. Phones are now as powerful as advanced computers a few years ago.
“The optics in the camera and the high-resolution display lend themselves perfectly to ophthalmic diagnostics.
“It’s a staggering thought that more people have access to a phone in the world than they do to running water.
“This is the perfect way to bring a western opinion to where it’s needed simply with a few adaptations and software support.”