Two determined university students have successfully bicycled across Africa in order to give away free solar-powered devices that could help save thousands of people from preventable hearing and vision impairment.

Alex McMaster and Merlin Hetherington only recently finished their intrepid journey after they successfully managed to pedal 6,300 miles (10,450 kilometers) across Africa.

The two friends, who met each other during their time at the University of St Andrews, spent eight months pedaling from Cairo to Cape Town in order to dole out Arclights to medical works in remote rural communities.

The Arclight, which was developed by the university’s School of Medicine, is a low-cost, solar-powered that works simultaneously as an ophthalmoscope and an otoscope.

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Around 285 million people in the world are estimated to be visually impaired, with an additional 360 million suffering from hearing impairment. Though the causes for these impairments are often preventable with early diagnosis, the medical equipment is either too expensive or it depends on batteries and lightbulbs.

The Arclight, on the other hand, enables users in low-income countries to make instant on-the-spot decisions that speed up access to treatment – all without having to worry about electricity.

Photo by the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness

“Given the statistics on preventable blindness, we felt moved to action. No one should live any part of their life needlessly blind,” said Hetherington, who graduated in June 2018 with a degree in medicine

“The Arclight is an incredible tool that if given to the right people will help improve the lives of thousands.”

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Despite battling 13 tire punctures and various encounters with police, bandits and tribal conflict, the young students managed to distribute 1,050 Arclights and train 843 people across the continent.

McMaster, who is studying biology and geography, said: “It’s been a learning experience for both of us.

“Initially, we were a bit apprehensive, but now, we are quite happy going in and training 80 to 100 students at a time so it’s been a great experience for us too.”

Photo by Arclight

Dr. Andrew Blaikie, Senior Lecturer in the Global Health Team and Consultant Ophthalmologist to Britain’s National Health Service, has been assisting with evaluation and implementation of Arclight over the past four years – and he was quick to praise the young students for their medical mission.

“What Alex and Merlin have done is a wonderful achievement both for themselves and the many hundreds of health care workers who now own an Arclight device,” said Blaikie.

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“Early diagnosis using the Arclight is the key to good outcomes for both eye and ear disease – especially in the young,” he added.

“Their expedition, I am sure, will now go on to benefit many thousands of people over the coming years, preventing needless disability. This is a legacy for which they should be immensely proud.”

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