Over half of the world’s population, around 4 billion people, require eyeglasses. More than half of those people do not have access to eye tests. A program called NetraG aims to link people who need eye care with professionals via smartphone technology, providing a revolution in vision correction. Their solution is affordable and accessible, allowing individuals to test their own eyesight and suggest the corrective measure needed.
The NetraG program can measure hyperopia (farsightedness), myopia (nearsightedness), astigmatism, presbyopia (age related bluriness), as well as pupillary distance. NetraG is as accurate as the $45,000 machines used by optometrists, and provides an affordable, mobile, easy to use program that can test from anywhere in the world. The obvious drawback to this is that an individual must have access to a smartphone, as well as wireless internet to reach the specialists, which are not as easily accessed in certain parts of the world that would most benefit from this new diagnostic device.
Netra is an eyepiece that clips on to the top of a smartphone, and it costs less than $2 to produce. The user self-adjusts the patterns by clicking buttons on the smartphone in order to align the images. These clicks are recorded and indicate the level of refractive error in an individual’s eye. Netra has won the Vodafone Americas Foundation Wireless Innovation Project, MIT Global Challenge’s Lemelson-MIT Program award, and Ignition Grant from the Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation, a Launch Health Innovation Award, as well as an Innovation Grant from Google.
Field testing is currently being done in 14 countries worldwide, including India, Brazil, and South Africa. As the project expands, NetraG will be able to connect more people globally in need of diagnoses with specialists. Although this program is promising, the drawbacks to it will definitely limit how useful of a program it is. The success of NetraG depends on the ability to access smartphone technology, which might include sending people overseas to reach communities that do not have access. The other problem is availability of affordable corrective eye procedures, whether it be glasses, contacts, or surgery.
With these drawbacks in mind, a collaboration between the NetraG program and organizations that are able to provide affordable corrective eye procedures would not only ensure that people have access to a diagnosis but also the means to improve their sight.