|17 January 2017|

Scotland

A cheap and effective solar-powered device which detects signs of blindness is revolutionising medical care in some of the world’s poorest regions.

A team from the University of St Andrews has developed Arclight, a solar-powered ophthalmoscope, which also duals as an otoscope to look into the ears and help prevent deafness.

Designed as a simple and low-cost tool for outreach or screening programmes in low-income countries, it enables users to make instant on-the-spot diagnostic decisions. A study led from the International Centre for Eye Health in London showed that it performs as well as traditional devices costing up to 100 times as much.

With the Arclight an examiner can look at the front and back of the eye, enabling them to see all major blinding conditions such as trachoma, cataract, glaucoma and diabetes. It is ideal for students or any qualified health care worker in low or high resource health care settings.

Through collaboration with the Fred Hollows Foundation and the International Agency for Prevention of Blindness, thousands of units have already been distributed to countries around the world, including Malawi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana, Fiji, Indonesia and the Solomon Islands, enabling healthcare workers to perform comprehensive eye and ear examinations for the first time.

Dr Andrew Blaikie, a Clinical Academic at the University of St Andrews, and key member of the team steering the development and testing of the Arclight, said: “Arclight is the result of years of hard work by a small team of enthusiasts. These efforts have brought simple, frugal yet highly effective tools to health care workers who would otherwise be unable to make the early diagnoses needed to prevent needless blindness.

“The work of the Global Health Team at St Andrews has helped focus attention on the exact needs and challenges of health care workers in low-income countries. We now aim to add internal memory loaded with teaching material and a clip to allow image capture with mobile phone cameras to the next version of the device. At the same time we are developing several other potentially disruptive low cost diagnostic tools aimed at serving the needs of health care workers in poorer countries.

“Our studies have also shown the device is an ideal tool for medical students and doctors in the UK too, and through sales here and in other wealthy nations we aim to cross-subsidise distribution to poorer countries such as Malawi, where Scotland has strong historical links.”