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No child left behind

A school vision screening programme using smartphone apps could help kids see better both in developing countries and the UK

12 Aug 2016 by Olivia Wannan

The UK’s school vision screening postcode lottery could be solved by the same technology that has revolutionised optics in Kenya.

Peek Vision apps were designed to use the power of a smartphone to replace the expensive and cumbersome equipment needed to conduct a vision examination, with an eye on developing nations.

However, the social enterprise co-founder, Dr Andrew Bastawrous, told OT that the NHS has expressed interest in implementing Peek Vision’s technology to improve the school vision screening programmes run by local authorities in England, alongside other current initiatives.

The Peek School Screening programme, using the Peek Acuity app, tested the eyes of more than 20,000 Kenyan school children in a recent pilot scheme.

"Peek Vision is now looking to the next phase of its school eye examination trials, with the app set to screen 300,000 students in Kenya before being put to the test in Indian and Botswanan schools."

The app uses a “tumbling E” to assess a child’s visual acuity, with the tester swiping left or right depending on whether a child gets the orientation of the symbol correct, and the app adjusting the size of the letter accordingly.

Simplicity is key – especially in communicating the visual acuity of a tested child. When a child is found to have vision problems, such as uncorrected refractive error (URE), the Peek Acuity app will send a text message to both the child’s parents and the principal of the school.

Included in this message is a split image of what the child’s vision looks like in comparison to normal vision.

It is a technique Dr Bastawrous first discovered the effectiveness of when working in Kenya. He gave paper printouts to patients to show their family members, in an attempt to boost the rates of people diagnosed with URE and other visual issues to see a specialist.

“It’s about removing as many barriers as possible … I found this really increased the number of people who would go,” he explained.

A local area manager oversees the school screening programme, trains teachers to use the app and monitors children found to have URE. Typically these local experts were in place before Peek Vision arrived, and because of this Dr Bastawrous viewed his organisation as a provider of tools and training.

“There are a lot of great people doing things already – we see our role as being supportive,” he emphasised.

Dr Bastawrous highlighted that the technology could also be of use to schoolchildren missing out on eye examinations in the UK.

He explained: “There’s a lot of interest from the NHS … The system will be able to generate the kind of data so we can really understand what’s going on.”

Rolling out the technology in a developed country would also allow the social enterprise to take some big steps in enabling optometrists and ophthalmologists in developing countries to make better use of their time.

Peek Vision is now looking to the next phase of its school eye examination trials, with the app set to screen 300,000 students in Kenya before being put to the test in Indian and Botswanan schools.

“We have the potential to really make an impact [but] I’m acutely aware that we really need to deliver on that promise,” Dr Bastawrous concluded.

Last year, OT spoke to research and development engineer at Peek Vision, Nigel Bolster, about their new innovations, including the Peek Retina. Find out more in the video below.


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