Mexico: AI to prevent blindness caused by diabetes

The social company Prosperia has launched a pilot program in Mexico to detect and prevent diabetes through Artificial Intelligence.

In Mexico, four million people could go blind from diabetes, but only find out when it is very advanced. Prosperia seeks to make detection and treatment of disease more accessible through artificial intelligence.

The project is based on two levels. First, a smart questionnaire that detects a patient’s risk of developing diabetes. The second level uses software that evaluates the back of the eye to determine how damaged it is and identifies whether the patient already has diabetic retinopathy, which can cause blindness in the long run.

The problem of diabetes in Mexico

In Mexico, it is common for a person to realize that they have diabetes due to problems with the eye to see, or because an ophthalmologist noticed it. Due to late diagnosis, in many cases, the patients have already lost visual acuity and suffer from serious complications.

According to the National Health Survey (in Spanish: Ensanut 2018), in Mexico, there are 12 million people with diabetes and another twelve million have prediabetes. Four million could develop eye problems from the disease.

The timely diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy could mean a saving of three billion pesos annually for the Mexican public health system.

Prosperia’s AI-based solution

The members of the social enterprise Prosperia are concerned about this situation. The team arose from a spin-off of the MIT Media Lab in Massachusetts, United States, and is being developed in Mexico under collaborations with the Association to Avoid Blindness (APEC), ITAM, and UNAM.

The company is made up of a group of scientists who are working on a solution that is based on calculators that assess the risk of someone having diabetes. From this diagnosis, they decide if the patient requires an evaluation of the retina. The company also offers a tool to make the diagnosis in a simple and accessible way.

Cristina Campero is the director of medical solutions for Prosperia. She indicates that the company’s objective is to make the detection and timely treatment of diabetes, its complications, and specifically ophthalmological ones more accessible.

Seeking AI adoption in the public and private sector

The Prosperia team is looking to push its AI-based solution in both the public and private sectors. They are in talks with the Mexican Social Health Institution IMSS to develop a retrospective pilot program to demonstrate the usefulness and practicality of the technology.

In the private sector, they are clear that an important point is that the first step is free for the patient. The subsequent examination – the examination of the fundus – has a cost but the idea is that the point of sale where it is offered assumes part of the cost to make it accessible to the end-user.

At this time, the greatest challenge they have is understanding the importance of these technologies in health, since in Mexico it is still a new issue. Convincing work is required for users and distribution channels to see the value of this technology.

Prosperia has a goal of placing 3 thousand health care points by 2025, where they would perform more than 3 million exams per year.