Around 1.5 billion people across the world currently suffer from myopia (short-sightedness). This number is expected to rise exponentially to five billion people by 2050 — one billion of whom will develop high myopia which often leads to blinding eye conditions and reduced quality of life.

The correlation of the onset of myopia, with the rapid increase in excessive smart device use in children worldwide, is not the only adverse effect resulting from the shift in our lifestyle habits concurrent with an increasingly digitised world. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has officially classified internet addiction syndrome and gaming addiction as mental health conditions.

A Singapore-based health-tech startup has developed an app that ensures proper smart usage among children. Named plano, the app provides a suite of child safety functions using science-based features to help modify behaviour in children to reduce myopia related risk factors and empower healthier device usage.

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The company has just raised a new round of funding from several investors, including philanthropist Peter Lim through his investment holding company Meriton Capital. This round will assist in “strengthening plano’s market position globally” and fast-track the execution of its research plan.

“For the first time ever, this includes Big Data analytics into myopia and smart device behaviour,” said plano Board Director and Duke-NUS Ophthalmology Professor Jonathan Crowston.

plano started in late 2017 from a project led by Associate Professor Mohamed (Mo) Dirani at the Singapore Eye Research Institute (SERI) – Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC) Ophthalmic Technologies Incubator. The scientist-entrepreneur rapidly moved it from government grants to this latest stage.

The app boasts of smart features to empower users to manage their children’s time spent on devices, correct face-to-screen-distance, good eye care habits, and device-free outdoor activity.

According to the startup, the app has already attracted over 100,000 family registrations in Singapore and abroad. plano is also available in India, Malaysia and Australia, and is on its way to over ten more countries, including China and the US.

“We are now well-placed to expand our blueprint globally and strengthen our collaborative efforts with government and industry partners to tackle the global epidemic of myopia, that is already affecting up to 90 per cent of our children and teenagers in the region,” said Dirani.

Singapore National Eye Centre Medical Director Wong Tien Yin added: “In a short period of time, plano has made significant contributions in raising awareness on growth and innovation, we anticipate it will become a key player in addressing the importance of eye health in Singapore and abroad, and with its continued global epidemic of myopia.