Makerere Researchers Find New Solar-Powered Device for Diagnosing Sight Problems

A study done by researchers at Makerere University College of Health Science has found a new device effective in diagnosing eye problems that affect both the front and the back of the eye.

Dr Immaculate Atukunda, a lecturer in the Department of Ophthalmology at Makerere University says that the device, known as Arclight is a pen-like solar-powered device that helps identify diseases such as cataracts, trachoma, corneal ulcers, corneal trauma and conjunctivitis.

According to the researcher, the effectiveness of this device was first established in studies done in Rwanda and Malawi where scientists checked whether it can help diagnose diseases that affect the back of the eye. 

However, Atukunda explains that they never studied its ability to test for frontal diseases which is what they have been studying in a trial involving 100 people with different sight defects at Mulago National Referral Hospital.

The Researchers compared diagnosis accuracy, the time taken to conduct examinations and the proportion of correctly identified conditions between the two devices. They also tested its performance against the commonly used portable slit lamp and found it effective.

Results show the arclight achieved 71 per cent accuracy in identifying eye diseases with an average diagnosis time of 26 seconds. The slit lamp’s accuracy was 72 per cent in 25 seconds in this study.

Experts say timely diagnosis remains one of the biggest hurdles in offering effective eye treatment even as the burden of disease remains high estimated at seven in every 100 Ugandans suffering a form of visual impairment.

Moses Wakaisuka, the President of the Uganda National Association of Ophthalmic Clinical Officers and Cataract surgeons told URN in an interview that the challenges with the diagnosis don’t only stop at equipment but also diagnostic drugs that they have to apply to one’s eyes to be able to establish what they are really suffering from.  He says the National Medical Stores only provides tetracycline as an essential drug yet this only works for trachoma which is not endemic everywhere.

Apart from diagnostic drugs, Wakaisuka says the slit lamp is not available in all health facilities because it’s quite expensive valued at about eighteen million shillings.  With this, he says some health workers resorted to diagnose by looking at symptoms which can sometimes be misleading.

However, the new device, the arclight is estimated to cost not more than one hundred thousand shillings which is quite affordable even if a health worker chooses at acquiring one on their own.        

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