Smart phones to the rescue: Detecting the warning signs of blindness in India
LONDON: In a country with over 60 million diabetics, and a doctor-patient ratio of only 1:8300, how do you ensure that each patient gets the early screening needed to help prevent vision loss?
In India, scientists hope to be able to counter the growing problem of preventable blindness thanks to a new ultra-portable lightweight device that is able to detect any early signs of sight deterioration.
Developed by Remidio Innovative Solutions in Bangalore, the Fundus on Phone (FOP) device is able to ‘piggyback’ onto a regular smartphone and take high resolution images of the back of the eye. Designed with simplicity in mind, the images can be taken by local health workers in the field, before being sent electronically by WhatsApp and Gmail to ophthalmologists many thousands of miles away to look for early warning signs.
Funded by the Wellcome Trust under the Affordable Healthcare in India scheme, the idea for the innovative device actually came after a chance meeting with an ophthalmologist on a train. Founder and Director of Remidio Dr Anand Sivaraman explained how the ophthalmologist talked of the problems of preventable vision loss and that despite the treatment costing only $30-50, the instruments needed to detect it can cost up to $100,000.
Pilot programs have already shown the potential public health impact this technology could have. Over the past 18 months over 3800 diabetics in Maharashtra were screened using FOP by women volunteers with no prior knowledge of retinal imaging, under the clinical guidance of Dr Salil Gadkari of Vision India Foundation. Of these, 507 patients were found to have sight-threatening retinal conditions that they were not even aware of, which means that 13% of the screened diabetics were potentially saved from permanent blindness due to a simple retinal image taken on a smartphone.
Dr Sivaraman says: “Early detection is key in the war against preventable blindness caused by chronic conditions such as Diabetic Retinopathy, ARMD and Glaucoma. Large scale screening requires devices that are not only affordable, but also simple to use, easy to maintain and reliable. Given its simplicity, affordability and ease of use, FOP has the potential to significantly impact preventable blindness programs, through tele-ophthalmology-based screening, globally.”
Image credit: © Remidio Innovative Solutions Pvt Ltd