Meet The Ukrainian Startup Using AI To Address Healthcare Emergencies

A Ukrainian startup is one of a handful of companies in the world using AI to detect a growing complication caused by diabetes.

Kyiv-based CheckEye has developed an innovative solution to tackle diabetic retinopathy, which can lead to blindness.

Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of vision loss in working age adults as high blood sugar levels damage the back of the eye.

There are more than 2.3 million people living in Ukraine with type 2 diabetes, with numbers growing at an alarming rate. And with the situation worsening against the backdrop of war, CheckEye is playing a key role in addressing the healthcare emergency in the country.

Millions of Ukrainians have been displaced since the start of the war, with a third of those reporting they are suffering from a lack of medicines and health services – especially a shortage of insulin.

CheckEye has developed a cloud-based solution to detect diabetic retinopathy and seven other eye conditions – in just ten minutes. The test can find problems before they affect the sight of a diabetic patient and even alert physicians to possible diabetes.

Having only launched in 2021, CheckEye began to scale up its operations just as the war started.

Working under the threat and reality of continuous missile strikes, the project team partnered with the Chernivtsi Regional Military Administration, the Ukrainian Diabetes Federation and The Filatov Institute for Eye Diseases to roll out a free-to-access mass eye screening for thousands of people – the first mass eye screening powered by AI-technology ever held in Ukraine.

The screening has so far been rolled out to 1,000 people in the Chernivtsi area of Western Ukraine, and is showing as 92% accurate. What’s more, 60% of the people screened had not been previously aware of their eye condition, meaning they can now get affective treatment to curb the disease and its effects.

Regular eye screening is essential for all people with diabetes and should be an integral component of routine diabetes care provided by primary healthcare providers. In England, diabetic eye screening is one of 11 NHS national population screening programmes and is offered to anyone with diabetes who is 12 years old or over. They are invited for eye screening once a year. However, geography and limited resources make eye screening difficult in many countries, including Ukraine.

Using this AI tool, CheckEye is able to roll out screening quicker and more effectively than ever before.

If diabetic retinopathy – or another concerning condition – is detected through its screening, CheckEye signposts to specialist eye health doctors nearby for treatment or early intervention.

What’s more, CheckEye and The Filatov Institute for Eye Diseases is already testing the prototype for eye screening in newborn babies – the world’s first such test.

CheckEye was founded by Kirill Goncharuk, one of the country’s senior IT leaders.

In his main job at Chief Information Officer at Ukrtelecom – Ukraine’s largest provider of fixed line telephony and broadband services – Kirill has found himself at the epicentre of cyber warfare and critical to securing civilian and military infrastructure.

Meanwhile, CheckEye’s Head of Legal, Andrew Chapkov, joined the Ukrainian Armed Forces on the first day of the invasion and took part in the military operation of de-occupying Bucha and Irpin and is still on the frontline today.

Kirill said: “Even before the war, access to medical services in Ukraine required improvement. Now, with infrastructure damaged and growing pressures placed on health services, it is essential we step up to make a difference.

“Diabetic retinopathy is the leading preventable cause of severe vision impairment and vision loss in the world. Combining everything, this is a time bomb for public health, social services and the economy of Ukraine.

“The potential negative economic impact of untreated conditions, including eye diseases, is immeasurable. Simply put, if we detect diabetic retinopathy too late at such a large scale, we cannot afford the treatment and will lead to tens of thousands of disabled people being added to the working age population.”

The screening is currently being rolled out to more than 20,000 patients in towns and cities in three regions across Ukraine in an attempt to reach many of the displaced people affected by the war.