Dave Trott: The difference between looking and seeing

When Andrew Bastawrous was a little boy, he was failing most of his classes at school.

Then one day he had an eye test.

The optician found that he couldn’t see the blackboard properly.

Andrew didn’t know this, he assumed everyone else saw the same.

When his poor eyesight was diagnosed he was given glasses.

Now he could see the blackboard everyone else saw.

Immediately his marks changed, he became the top in the class.

That lesson stayed with Andrew his whole life.

He went on to specialise in ophthalmology at Leeds University.

For his PhD he monitored eye disease amongst 5,000 people in Kenya.

He took $160,000 worth of optical equipment in two trucks, and a team of 15 people.

That’s when he discovered the real problem.

In poor countries, around 285 million people suffer visual impairment.

39 million of those are blind. But 80 per cent of that blindness is curable.

If you can find it.

And that’s the real problem.

Most of these people live in such remote villages the trucks couldn’t even get there.

Even if they could, there was no electricity.

The equipment would have to run on generators, which used huge amounts of petrol.

Andrew Boutawrous had a problem he couldn’t solve.

So he got upstream and changed it to a problem he could solve.

He knew these villages were very poor.

Most of them didn’t even have clean drinking water.

But one thing every village did have, however poor.

A mobile phone.

And Andrew thought, a mobile phone has apps that can do anything.

Checking train times, sharing photos, finding map locations.

Why can’t we develop an app that does eye tests?

And he developed an app to photograph the eye, and test for diseases.

It costs $500, less than 1 per cent of conventional equipment.

It can photograph the retina at the back of the eye.

The photographs can be sent directly to Moorefields Eye Hospital in London, where the condition can be diagnosed.

Treatment can be prescribed immediately.

The phone can be carried anywhere, with solar charging panels in a backpack.

Even where there are no roads the patient can be located using the phone’s GPS.

It doesn’t need two trucks and a team of fifteen people. It doesn’t even need a doctor.

Anyone can be trained to use it in five minutes.

The results can be sent via email to London, and analysed by a team of specialists.

It doesn’t matter what language the patient speaks.

It doesn’t matter how old the patient is.

The phone uses symbols to communicate and eye-tracking to monitor.

And, in villages without roads in Kenya, there are now people who are seeing for the first time in years.

Because Andrew Boutawrous identified a problem he couldn’t solve, got upstream and changed it into a problem he could solve.

Predatory thinking doesn’t have to be predatory.



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