As wearable, carryable, and implantable Health Tech devices develop individually and in the aggregate, many observers look beyond U.S. and European early-adopter tech-savvy markets to areas in the world with low resources. These remote locations have few connections to the outside world, and rarely have access to electricity and clean water. Massive populations are not served or under-served at best with meager medical resources and personnel. Any technology that can extend quality health care to poor, remote areas gets special attention.
Dr. Andrew Blaikie, Clinical Academic at the University of St. Andrews and an eye surgeon at Queen Margaret Hospital at Fife has been a key figure in the development of the Arclight, working with teams at the University of Leicester and University College London. The Arclight is a pocket-size device that does double-duty as an ophthalmoscope for eye exams and as an otoscope to examine ears. Because the Arclight is solar-powered, it has no need for battery chargers.
Primarily intended to help healthcare workers in low-income countries detect early signs of blindness, the Arclight’s ability to detect deafness renders it extremely valuable. When health workers can immediately diagnose problems during outreach and screening programs, the opportunity to provide timely care increases significantly. According to a study by the International Centre of Eye Health in London, the Arclight performs as well as conventional ophthalmoscopes that are 100 times as expensive. With the Arclight, an healthcare worker can see the front and back of the eye, which enables it to detect signs of trachoma, cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetes.
The Arclight isn’t only for use in remote areas, however. The University of St. Andrews has set up a spin-off company to sell the Arclight and use the profits to distribute products to poor countries. So far, thousands of units have been distributed in Malawi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana, Fiji, Indonesia, and the Solomon Island. In many cases, these enable healthcare workers to give comprehensive and accurate eye and ear exams for the first time.
The team at St. Andrews intends to continue developing the Arclight and other products. The next version of the Arclight will have internal memory to store teaching instructional materials and capture images with a smartphone. The work also focuses on additional “potentially disruptive low-cost diagnostic tools aimed at serving the needs of health care workers in poorer countries.”