Monday, June 23, 2014

Recommended podcast: Get your next eye exam on a smartphone by Andrew Bastawrous

A smartphone with a cheap attachment can diagnose eye disease and let us restore sight to millions of blind people

In 1973, E. F. Schumacher published a book called "Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered." Schumacher wrote of the need for "approriate technology" -- technology that was small-scale, decentralized, labor-intensive, energy-efficient, environmentally sound, and locally controlled. His emphasis was on, but not confined to, developing nations.

Andrew Bastawrous' low-cost smartphone ophthalmic tools are a textbook example of appropriate technology. He uses an Android phone to assess vision, view the retina, and simulate a persons vision for another to see the world as they do. Eye exams are conducted by technicians on bicycles with solar panels on their backpacks to keep the phones charged. They also have a map-based app to maintain their database of patients and village elders.

Two quotes from the talk:
  • There are 39 million people in the world who are blind. Eighty percent of them are living in low-income countries such as Kenya, and the absolute majority do not need to be blind. They are blind from diseases that are either completely curable or preventable.
  • It makes it possible to pick up diseases of the eye and of the body that would not be possible without access to the eye, and that clip-on device can be manufactured for just a few dollars, and people can be cured of blindness, and I think it says a lot about us as a human race if we've developed cures and we don't deliver them. But now we can.

For more information on Andrew Bastawrous and his project as well as a transcript and downloadable audio and video copies of the podcast (6:33), follow this link.

Solar power charges the backpack and the
technician travels on a bicycle or motor bike.

Imaging the retina

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