If current trends continue, 5 billion people—half the world's population—will have myopia by 2050. And while you may not think of near-sightedness as a serious public-health threat, the growing scope of the problem is estimated to cost US$328 billion already, and 1 billion of those affected by 2050 will have a serious form that can lead to blindness.
In hopes of staving off the crisis, IPG Mediabrands APAC today announced a regional pro bono collaboration with Plano, a company that's taking a science- and tech-based approach to fighting myopia. IPG Mediabrands will help Plano expand in the region and worldwide with strategic partnerships, media, expertise, and awareness-driving CSR initiatives.
The company's timing in announcing the partnership seems impeccable, given news Friday that China plans to limit the number of online video games out of concern over myopia levels.
But where China's solution sounds draconian, Plano takes a more educational and interventional approach. Launched last year through a Singapore government-supported incubator and with support from Singapore's NHIC (National Health Innovation Centre), Plano has developed an eponymous app that aims to manage excessive and inappropriate device usage by children. The app is available in Singapore, India, and as of today, Malaysia.
"Plano works in the background of phones and tablets to empower behaviour change as well as to provide real-life intervention to ensure devices are held correctly, at the right distance, using the right posture," Dr. Mo Dirani, Plano's founder and MD, told Campaign Asia-Pacific. "And then we also, through embedded algorithms, recommend referral for optometry care."
The glowing slabs of electronics that we spend much of our time looking at don't cause myopia per se. Genetics and environment both play a role, but excessive device usage does contribute to two of the main risk factors that are clearly associated with the condition: a lot of close-up focusing and a lack of exposure to sunlight, Dirani said.
Fortunately, the science is clear that the development of the disease can be reduced with simple steps such as frequent breaks to focus on faraway objects and outdoor playtime, especially in young children. "The lifestyle factors can be slowed," Dirani said. "What's been lacking is a scalable intervention."
Plano turns the source of the problem into the solution by teaching proper techniques and helping kids develop healthy habits, Leigh Terry, CEO of IPG Mediabrands APAC, said in a release. "As a part of an industry that delivers marketing messages for brands in an increasingly digital world, we support the uptake of emerging technology, however we also undertake to acknowledge the wider impact and responsibility of doing so,” he said.
IPG Mediabrands' 3000 APAC employees will play a role in promoting the cause through a variety of initiatives over the next 12 months, added Naomi Michael, head of marketing and communications.
Dirani expressed gratitude for IPG Mediabrands' involvement. "They were very quick in identifying the value of Plano, its scalabilty and its science credibility," he said. "And they felt that they had channels and resources and interest to scale this and help us expand internationally."
The app also serves as a tool for research into the development of myopia, Dirani said. The company is delivering data gathered by a short questionairre in the app to the Singapore government, helping to assess the prevalance of the condition, the age of onset and the severity, he said.
Dirani has also developed a five-title book series with illustrator David Liew and children's book author Hwee Goh. In the first title, Trouble in Murktown, a villain called Lord Myopic "is determined to cover Murktown in fog", as a hero called Professor Plano seeks to stop him.