TIER Project @ Cal

Novel technology brings eye care to remote rural areas in India

Excerpted from The Eyes Have It…Finally by Gordy Slack, with updates

In many emerging economies, like India’s, advances in telemedicine can ensure that big-city healthcare is available even at the outskirts of town. But what about the millions of people who live beyond the outer reaches, where the “tele” in telemedicine does not yet reach?

UC Berkeley Professor Eric Brewer’s CITRIS-supported Technology and Infrastructure for Emerging Regions (TIER) project has found a way to bring broadband wireless to villages that, until now, have been off the tele-communication map. By modifying simple and readily available wi-fi technologies, the group has linked tiny local eye clinics in the southern India state of Tamil Nadu to bigger clinics, like the Aravind Eye Hospital at Theni.

In the past five years, the project has grown from just one clinic and one hospital to include now ten clinics linking up to three different hospitals. The clinics are providing videoconferences with eye doctors for about 5,000 rural patients a month—totaling more than 100,000 patients to date, says Sonesh Surana, a computer science graduate student at UC Berkeley who has been involved with the project since its inception in late 2004. Because of early diagnosis, over 15,000 people have regained their eyesight—and of paramount importance, their ability to reenter the workforce. In fact, an Aravind Hospital study done a few years ago found that following treatment, 85 per cent of the men and 58 per cent of the women who had lost jobs because of poor eyesight were taken back after recovery. Learn more about the TIER project.

Cal graduate student Sonesh Surana, on the roof of the Theni hospital, stands beside “off-the-shelf” antenna and wifi router. The innovation is in the WiFi MAC protocol software that allows for high bandwidths over very long distances.

At the Periyakulum Vision Center, a staff member examines a rural patient’s eyes using a slit lamp camera. Staff have up to a high-school education and then are selected by Aravind for training to provide patients with the first level of triage.

After receiving a routine examination at the vision center, this patient will meet with a doctor over video conferencing to describe his condition and get a diagnosis.

The TIER group’s novel long distance WiFi-based technology links the rural center to the hospital providing a high-bandwidth link over which this TV-quality video conferencing is possible.

Watch the video!