The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that there are over 1.3 billion visually impaired people, of which more than 36 million are blind. Home to the world’s second largest population, blindness is no stranger to India. According to a report by Centre for Sight, one of every three blind people is an Indian. The country is home to over 30 per cent of the world’s blind population—an estimated 12 million.
While technology advancements can be leveraged to cure blindness, there is an impending need for doctors, government agencies, NGOs and healthcare companies to collaborate to bring these benefits to more people across the social spectrum.
Google, for example, has developed an eye-scanning technique that can look at retinal images and detect diabetic retinopathy. The machine-learning algorithm cross-references millions of web images with the patient’s retina to spot tiny aneurisms indicating early stages of diabetic retinopathy. The company has already begun integrating the technology into a chain of eye hospitals in India.
Combining sophisticated technology with portability has given rise to low-cost diagnostic tools for doctors. Smartphone-based vision testing has helped identify refractive eye problems in rural areas. Peek Vision, a UK-based social enterprise, has developed a product that enables doctors to view and capture retinal images on their smartphone. Another company, EyeNetra, a US start-up is using cutting-edge technology to calculate refractive errors with an app to identify near-sightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism.
Lasers have been around since the 90s, but in recent years they have evolved into Artificial Intelligence (AI)driven procedures. Axsis, a new generation of medical robots developed in 2016, can perform cataract surgeries.
Armed with tiny, flexible, worm-like arms and controlled with joysticks, it has an internal algorithmic autopilot that prevents the surgeon from making silly mistakes. Despite these innovations, quality services reach only 50 percent of the population suffering from eye problems, says international NGO, Sightsavers. The author is Country Business Head-Surgical at Alcon India