Source: New York Times | March 10, 2019
Author: Cade Metz
MADURAI, India — The Aravind Eye Hospital will treat anyone who comes through the door, with or without money.
Each day, more than 2,000 people arrive from across India and sometimes other parts of the world, crowding into the hallways and waiting rooms of this 43-year-old hospital at the southern end of the country. On a recent morning, Vt Muthusamy Ramalingamm, a local resident, walked into a room on the second floor, sat down and rested his chin on a small desktop device that pointed a camera into his eyes.
A technician tapped on a screen at the back of an eye scanner, and within seconds a diagnosis appeared on a computer against the wall. Both eyes showed signs of diabetic retinopathy, a condition that can cause blindness if untreated.
In most hospitals and clinics around the world, trained physicians make this diagnosis, examining a patient’s eyes and identifying the tiny lesions, hemorrhages and discoloration that anticipate diabetic blindness. But Aravind is trying to automate the process. Working with a team of Google artificial intelligence researchers based in California, the hospital is testing a system that can recognize the condition on its own.
Google and its sister company Verily targeted this type of blindness because of its prevalence and because it is the sort of illness that an A.I. system can detect early. Google is not charging the hospital while it tests the technology.
Researchers hope this A.I. system will help doctors screen more patients in a country where diabetic retinopathy is increasingly prevalent. Nearly 70 million Indians are diabetic, according to the World Health Organization, and all are at risk of blindness. But the country does not train enough doctors to properly screen them all. For every one million people in India, there are only 11 eye doctors, according to the International Council of Ophthalmology.