The older woman sitting two meters away from the television squints and moves her head forward in an attempt to see the screen clearly. Claudete José Custódio or (as everyone calls her) Dona Claudete loves the telenovelas on Brazilian TV. These are dramatic, but not overly convoluted stories of fate, power, and passion. For some time, it has been quite difficult for this 62-year-old woman to make out the actors’ faces, causing her to mix up the characters. “I need a new pair of glasses,” she says.
While in many countries this issue could be resolved by a quick trip to the local optometrist, the situation is more complicated in Brazil. There are not any ophthalmologists in the countryside or the poorer areas of the large cities.
In Porto Alegre, located in southern Brazil, all this is changing with the “Telessaude” program offering assistance to people like Dona Claudete. Visionary, customized medical and technological (data management) solutions from ZEISS are making this possible by connecting remote clinics via telemedicine technology. In this chapter of fighting poverty through progress, patients who are prepared to take a new approach to health care have the chance of achieving optimal vision.
The eight-person team at the remote eye care clinic gives Dona Claudete a warm welcome. They ask if she is taking any medication or has diabetes. Looking slightly overwhelmed, the older woman responds by saying no. It seems as if she would rather be back at her humble home, where the world is extremely small, but also manageable.
She doesn’t have to wait for long. First, they measure her intraocular pressure. Then they analyze her visual field and the ocular fundus, i.e., the back of her eyes. With a data management system, all data are networked with the ophthalmologist’s computer.
There’s just one thing: The diagnosing doctor, Dr. Aline de Araujo, is not at the hospital in Restinga. Instead, she’s sitting in a darkened room in the center of Porto Alegre, one-and-a-half hours away. An internet connection enables the doctor and patient to see each other on monitors allowing Dona Claudete see her test results on the screen in front of her.
When asked to read out N C V O Z in the middle row of the eye chart, it quickly becomes clear that Dona Claudete is suffering from presbyopia, an age-related vision loss, and that this has made her very near-sighted.
“Which is better?” asks Dr. Aline Araujo again and again as she remotely changes the lenses in the vision testing instrument. Dona looks intently into the device as if she were taking an exam. After 20 minutes, the doctor writes Dona Claudete a prescription remotely. At this particular moment, the vast distance seems to melt away. “Good luck with your new glasses,” says Dr. Aline Araujo. Dona Claudete says thank you, while attempting to hold back her tears of joy.