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Vision goes hi-tech in rural TN

Vision goes hi-tech in rural Tamil Nadu

india Updated: Jun 08, 2006 02:51 IST

A new Wi-Fi wireless technology allows eye specialists in Aravind Eye Hospital at Theni, Tamil Nadu, to examine patients in five village clinics through video-conferencing.

The 17-months old the pilot project — a collaboration between Aravind Eye Hospital, University of California in Berkeley and Intel Corporation — has been so successful that the partners are planning to take it to five more hospitals that will connect 50 clinics, expected to cater to half-a- million patients each year.

“What we’ve done here is to develop a simple, inexpensive software and hardware system that can provide villages with a high-bandwidth connection for computer networks to link cities 50 miles away,” said Eric Brewer, a UC Berkeley professor of computer science and director of the Intel Research Berkeley lab, who pioneered the technology.

With high-speed links to the hospital, three of the clinics — also known as vision centres — screen about 1,500 patients each month. Numbers are not yet available for two other centers, which came online in May this year. The centres are run by a nurse trained in eyecare. The nurse first examines the patients, who are then allowed allowed to consult Aravind experts on a web camera.

If the doctor feels that a advance tests or an operation is necessary, the patient is gets an appointment to meet the doctor in person. Patients receive glasses, medicine or remote diagnoses for more serious problems that often require hospital appointments or surgery.

About 5-10 per cent patients —  about 100 people a month — experience significant improvement in vision after cataract surgery. A recent study conducted by the hospital showed that after treatment, 85 per cent men and 58 per cent women, who lost their jobs because of impaired vision were back at work. “We’re trying to address shortage of doctors by allowing patients to go to a local centre, Once diagnosed, they go to hospitals if they need to Usually they are treated free of cost,” Brewer said.  Brewer’s work with Aravind Eye Hospitals is one of several projects that he and a group of computer science students and researchers have initiated under the Technology and Infrastructure for Emerging Regions (TIER) project.

The TIER research team works with the Intel Research Berkeley lab team on the Aravind Eye Hospitals research project and other activities through an open collaborative research agreement.