As a teenager, Gita Rani Dhar's eyes were slightly injured by glass in an accident. When she went to a doctor, she was told everything was fine.
Now, as a 68-year-old, she has found out she is far-sighted, besides having cataract in both eyes, during a simple check-up.
"We suspect she had vision loss when she was very young, which is why she had that glass accident," said Pradipta Chowdhury, co-founder of EyeBuddy. "She has been living with vision loss for more than 50 years without being aware of it."
Gita now needs eye surgery, or else she might go blind.
"If she had tools like the EyeBuddy app she could have sought help much earlier," he added.
Eyes are one of the most vital and sensitive organs of the body that needs continuous supervision and care. An annual or bi-annual check-up is not sufficient to keep your eyes healthy. However, visiting an ophthalmologist every month is also not a viable option for most people in Bangladesh.
To aid people with cost-effective teleophthalmology care, Pradipta and Purnashree Chowdhury, a brother-sister duo, who come from a family of eye doctors, created the EyeBuddy app to deliver the vision screenings and tests used in most eye check-ups.
Born in Chattogram, Pradipta, a pre-med graduate at the University of Toronto (Scarborough), will soon start his med school at the University of Buckingham in the UK. Purnashree is a doctor in Bangladesh pursuing her licence to practice in the US.
"I came to Canada with myopia and needed minus three powered lenses. Within a span of two years, the power escalated to minus six. Eyecare in Canada is very expensive, and I could not seek medical help very frequently," said Pradipta.
What is EyeBuddy and how does it work?
EyeBuddy is an AI-driven app for androids and iOs with two parts - eye exercises (free) and screening tests (paid).
The interface of the app has user-friendly features, and the daily eye exercises allow the users to do simple workouts involving colourful objects, a guiding voice, phone vibrations and more. The app reminds users to close their eyes for at least a moment to manage daily eye strain.
Daily eye tests notify users of potential early vision loss and eye conditions, while tracking the progress of each eye. The app also has more than 50 exercises that train all 12 eye muscles, and users can customise their training around conditions such as dry eye, lazy eye and macular degeneration. They can also earn points, unlock milestones and connect with other users on the platform.
Two different teams, including the AI development team and a clinical support team, are currently working on upgrading the app and enabling new features.
The startup by the power siblings is funded by the Canadian government and has already collaborated with a handful of eyecare-based organisations.
"We are trying to build a community through supporting each other and finding long-term solutions to unaddressed eye issues," he said.
Unseen problems in the modern generation
Children glued to digital devices is a common scene in every household that we have normalised it, without understanding the long-term concerns.
During the Covid-19 lockdown, the Canadian government distributed iPads with free wireless data plans to students who did not have access to online learning tools.
"Every other kid got addicted to the iPad and started having different eye issues. My baby cousin was no different, he is now suffering from low vision and possibly has other eye issues," said Pradipta.
Moreover, children tend to respond to eye issues late, and by the time parents notice them and take measures, the damage becomes serious.
Pradipta and Punashree were taken aback by the situation and wanted to build a platform that makes eye care easy and accessible to everyone, especially children.
"If a condition is chronic, treatment is long-term. In case of many eye conditions, we can be spared unnecessary expenditure if they are detected early," he added.
EyeBuddy has a well-established market in Canada and has already engaged more than 10,000 users.
Making eye care accessible in every part of Bangladesh
After capturing a steady market in Canada, EyeBuddy has made its debut in Bangladesh by onboarding more than 104 ophthalmologists.
Recently, the startup has partnered with Lion's Hospital, one of the largest eye hospitals in Bangladesh, in an effort to make trips to the eye doctor completely virtual.
"In collaboration with Lion's Hospital, we have conducted two workshops in Chattogram. In the first one, 2,500 female garment workers were given eye check-ups, and the other one was held in a village named Boalkhali," said Pradipta.
The workshops and the checkup results were eye-opening for Pradipta.
"In remote areas, people are really reluctant to address eye problems. Bangladesh needs platforms like EyeBuddy more than any country," he opined.
In the coming months, EyeBuddy is going to collaborate with one a prominent hospital in the country (yet to disclose the name) and launch its services through it.
Besides using the app from home, patients will be able to get some specific eye tests done in the hospital as well. Moreover, through the app, ophthalmologists will be available virtually.