Rolex Winner PEEK Vision Allows Smartphone-Based Eye Exams In Resource Poor Settings Interview with:
Dr. Andrew Bastawrous, Ophthalmologist

Rolex Awards for Enterprise
United Kingdom

Dr. Bastawrous’ smartphone-based portable eye examination system, Peek Vision, allows patients in low resource setting, to be screened for vision problems and eye diseases, enabling accurate diagnosis and treatment. What is the background for Peek Vision? What are the main findings of your work with this system?

Response: Mama Paul has been blind for almost 20 years, most of her time is spent within the safety of her tiny home. It is basic, but in her mind’s eye she can still picture where the door is, her son – Paul, lives next door and is always willing to help.

Losing sight is the sense most people fear losing most.

I am severely visually impaired, I am also fortunate to have perfect vision when wearing corrective glasses or contact lenses and privileged to be in the profession of ophthalmology where centuries of research and practice have brought us to a time when so much of blindness is now curable or preventable.

There is no feeling like it: when the eye patch comes off someone who hasn’t seen for years, the sheer wonder as they take in their surroundings and their anticipation to see faces that have become voices and places that have become memories.

Back in 2011, as I pondered and planned for the challenges that lay ahead of us in Kenya, I had the continual thought that there must be an easier way to reach people, a way that is less expensive, less resource hungry and therefore could be used on a much wider scale.

In Kenya, and much of Africa, more people have access to a mobile phone than they do clean running water. It had to be possible to harness this connectivity.

For you and I, as soon as we start to experience a change in our vision, we have several options: we could see our local optician, family doctor or local eye clinic. What happens when none of those options exist?

Two weeks later, using the GPS position of her Peek examination at home she was contacted and collected for surgery. At the hospital she was agitated and despite being thin and frail was causing a stir. When you’ve been blind for so long and you are moved to an environment you don’t know, it is incredibly scary. Eventually we calmed her down with a little sedation to go through the five-minute procedure, costing only £40 (including the transport).

In the morning, the scene was very different. Her eye patch was off. She was sat on a chair, talking calmly to an old neighbour she hadn’t seen in years. Later that day, we took her home.

The moment we dropped her home is one I will never forget. She stood and stared at her small, mud and straw house, unchanged in the 20 years she had been blind. Next to it, a man staring back at her, a mix of concern and anticipation on his face. After what seemed an age, she looked straight at him, “Paul?”.

As the tears filled her eyes, “Paul – you look so old!” They embraced and soon the whole village came out to see what was going on. Mama Paul happily telling everyone how old they had become and the tears were replaced with laughter and dancing.

People like this, needlessly blind are the reason we created Peek. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Peek’s software diagnostic tests, hardware and systems have all undergone rigorous clinical trials and field testing and are implemented within a continuous validation model. This includes published trials in peer-reviewed journals in 2015 [PMID: 26022921, 26606110] on our vision test and retinal-imaging adapter. Further trials have been completed and are soon to be published, including: a qualitative analysis of our tools in Kenya; an RCT of our school screening programme by teachers in Kenya; validation of Peek Retina for diabetes in Tanzania; and Malaria retinopathy in Mali and Malawi. Health economic evaluations of our school screening and diabetic retinopathy programs in Kenya and Tanzania respectively have been completed, providing evidence that our technology and local health service integration provides clinically valid data, increases adherence to referrals, is acceptable to patients, users and stakeholders, and is cost effective. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: The main point we stress is that technology does not resolve blindness, people do. Our role is to empower and support those people working tirelessly to eliminate avoidable blindness with the tools and methodologies that further their reach and increase their effectiveness. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


The newest Rolex Laureates are helming projects on the leading edge of science and innovation

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

More Medical Research Interviews on

[wysija_form id=”5″]

Last Updated on November 20, 2016 by Marie Benz MD FAAD