Harnessing the power of data

Child covers her right eye with her right hand. She points towards the camera with her left hand as she looks through her left eye.
Written by Colin Zak, published on July 28, 2022 Sign up for eNews

Have you ever wondered how we managed to screen more than 70,000 students and nearly 2,000 teachers in schools across Kenya in 2021?

The answer: partnership.

Sharing ideas and expertise has made all the difference for Operation Eyesight and Peek Vision. For both organizations, collaboration has spurred innovation and led to more lives changed.

“We have a special place in our heart for Operation Eyesight – especially in Kenya, because Operation Eyesight was our first real partner from the beginning of our work there,” explains Farhana Rehman-Furs, head of Programme Partnerships at Peek Vision.

“At the time, Peek was still in the research and development phase. But Operation Eyesight has been involved from the beginning, really through the product development phase.”

Peek Vision offers smartphone and software-based tools that enable staff and volunteers to perform school and community eye health screenings, as well as capture and analyze data. Developed by eye health experts, Peek is using the power of technology to bring better vision and eye health to everyone.

Operation Eyesight and Peek Vision have proved that collaboration really does drive innovation. Our partnership with Peek has helped both organizations magnify their impact and create novel solutions to bring the gift of sight to more students, teachers and school staff, through the Peek Acuity app. © Peek Vision/Operation Eyesight

Peek is relatively unique in their space and in a short time has become a key player in providing technology and public health-based tools to help eye health providers optimise their services. Think tech start-up meets NGO.

In its 10-year history, Peek has continued to evolve from initially developing hardware and software to detect eye health issues, to eventually focusing on holistic solutions that cover eye health programs from screening to referral.

The best part about the Peek app is teachers and school staff can be trained to use the vision screening tool. © Peek Vision/Operation Eyesight

“We knew this was an area where we could have the most impact – working with program providers and existing health systems, using Peek’s software.”

Partners in innovation

Since the early days of research and product development, the meeting of minds between our two organizations has blossomed into larger projects involving more partners.

In 2015, Operation Eyesight and Peek Vision first partnered with Standard Chartered Bank and Kenya’s ministry of health, in a trial school screening program covering 50 schools across Trans Nzoia County. In just nine days, using the technology, we were able to screen 20,000 children for eye conditions and identified 900 students with visual impairment.

The following year, we scaled up Kenya’s school eye health screening program to reach 168,000 children. Our goal is to provide treatment to at least 90 per cent of children identified as having a visual impairment receiving. The rest is history. 

Today, we are collaborating across the eye health sphere, including the Vision Impact Project in Kenya, where we are partnering with Peek, Kenya’s ministries of health and education, as well as Christian Blind Mission (CBM). Together, we are focused on school eye health screening, eye health education, prescription eyeglasses, along with referral of students and school staff who need additional treatment.

Our CEO and President Kashinath Bhoosnurmath says that although our teams bring very different skills and expertise to the table, we have the shared goal of bringing eye health care to communities and individuals who need it most.

We are using the power of data to ensure that the way we deliver eye health care is evidence-informed. This allows both organizations to continually re-adjust and adapt to the needs of a school or community. © Peek Vision/Operation Eyesight

“One thing that our organizations have in common is that we are both innovators,” explains Kashinath. “It’s about increasing the impact we can both have together, by listening to the needs of communities, and continually adjusting our course.”

Integrating with local health systems

Together, we are leveraging the power of data to make eye health programs as impactful as possible in schools and communities. How? By focusing on public health principles and methodologies.

“We are able to understand why people aren’t seeking treatment and work with implementation partners like Operation Eyesight to help teams on the ground adjust how they deliver care,” Farhana says. “Because our software provides real-time data, program implementers can respond in real time.”

Partnering with local health systems is a key part of both Peek and Operation Eyesight’s ability to have impact. For example, for our school eye health program in Kenya, we are partnering with Kenya’s ministry of health and ministry of education.

Both organizations are also utilizing data to identify gaps and bottlenecks in local health systems.

“One part of our success is our ability to work within and bring value to existing health systems, and build partnerships with facilities and institutions that can deliver advanced eye care,” Kashinath says.

“Focusing on enhancing existing services and existing infrastructure really ensures that our impact is sustainable.”

School eye health programs help identify students requiring additional testing and treatment. Our teams on the ground also connect patients and families with their wider local health system. Photo © Peek Vision/Operation Eyesight

Community and school programs

In Kenya, where we first began working together, Peek and Operation Eyesight teams are meeting with stakeholders, as part of the Vision Impact Partnership led by CBM, to design the workflow that will become part of the software in Kajiado County, located in the country’s arid southwest.

Both organizations are also focused on involving communities from the very beginning of a project.

“Making eye health screening available on a smartphone app is a game changer,” explains Alice Mwangi, our Country Director for Kenya. “In our partnership with Peek, both teams play an important and necessary role. Peek delivers the tool, but bringing this to students and staff is where we come in. Really, it’s a perfect match.”

The future of partnership

The sky’s the limit when it comes to data and how it can improve patient experience and our ability to reach more people with eye health care.

From following patients through their entire eye health care journey, to connecting people with their local healthcare system to understanding trends in gender, Farhana says the future of eye health care is partnership.

“It’s about how we leverage data and use learnings to have more impact in terms of vision restored and lives changed.”

This story and media product are made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of Operation Eyesight Canada and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

Our school screening programs in Kenya are also made possible through the generosity of Standard Chartered Bank.

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