[Updated April 27, 2016] Engineering research labs are churning out a solid line up of low-cost medical devices for health care in developing countries. The technology vacillates from high to low, like this HIV diagnostic device and this blood sample centrifuge built around parts stripped from an electric drill. This innovation surge fills a need, and just how big that need might be is under scrutiny now.
To make sense of the changing field, we asked Rebecca Richards-Kortum, the Stanley C. Moore Professor of Bioengineering at Rice University, to curate our list of 10 life-saving technologies for rural health care. Richards-Kortum founded and directs the Rice 360° Institute for Global Health Technologies. More than 300 students in the Rice 360° program have designed 40 new technologies and educational programs. The devices are in place in 14 countries, benefiting nearly 20,000 people.
These are Rebecca Richards-Kortum’s top 10 picks for life-saving technologies for rural health care.
Neonatal Jaundice Treatment
Three US design firms have developed inexpensive, energy-efficient phototherapy machines to treat jaundice in rural and low-resource communities. Design Revolution (D-rev) in San Francisco, California, released Brilliance Pro in 2015, and Design that Matters in Salem, Massachusetts, is selling its Firefly machines in 18 countries, and Little Sparrows, in Boston, Massachusetts, is developing Bili Hut, a rigid tent-like device for areas without reliable electricity. The devices use LED bulbs to cut costs and power requirements.
Little Sparrows (Autodesk Entrepreneur Impact Program customer) has developed a jaundice device specifically designed for areas without reliable electricity. Little Sparrow is conducting two pilots in Africa now, with more to come.
Jaundice afflicts at least 13 million babies every year, 9 million of whom are in developing countries. That number could be much higher: The disease often goes undiagnosed, since the front lines of health care in impoverished communities are often home remedies and sparsely equipped clinics.
D-Rev and DtM are supported by our friends at the Autodesk Foundation, and Little Sparrows is an Autodesk Entrepreneur Impact Customer. Please see our past coverage of D-Rev’s Brilliance.
Point of Care Diagnostics
Hemospec (Rice University/BTB): Point-of-care diagnostics increase diagnostic capabilities in rural settings by reducing the need for follow-up clinic visits and reducing the cost per test. For example, Hemospec is a portable device that provides instant results for anemia diagnosis.
Diagnostics for All: Paper-based tests, liver function test (AIDS, TB), no reader required
PATH: Strip test for gestational diabetes
Nucleic acid isothermal amplification paper test strips: TB diagnosis, China (pg. 33) RRK lab (TB, HIV)
Post-Partum Hemorrhage Care
Inhaled oxytocin (Monash University): Researchers at Monash University are developing an inhaled form of the drug oxytocin, which can effectively prevent postpartum hemorrhage. The inhaled form aims to increase access to the drug because it does not require refrigeration or trained medical personnel for administration.
SAPHE pad (Rice University) Blood Loss Measurement
Maternal Transport / Prenatal Care
Community taxi service (Partners for Development, Cambodia): In rural settings, it can be prohibitively costly, time-consuming, and unsafe for mothers to travel to a health center for ante/post-natal care or delivery. Self-sustainable and targeted transport services, such as the initiative by Partners for Development, could provide a reliable means of transportation for mothers, along with providing other transportation for remote communities, such as school busing.
Clean Cook Stoves
Burn Manufacturing: Traditional biomass cookstoves cause over 4 million deaths per year from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, cancers, and premature births. Clean cook stoves, such as those from Burn Manufacturing, have tremendous potential to reduce these preventable deaths, as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
UV LEDs: 780 million people lack access to clean water. Simple and effective purification technologies help provide purification methods at the point-of-use. UV-LED technology is developing to be able to provide a low-cost, low-power, and effective means for water purification.
Solar Steam (Naomi Halas): Unsanitary conditions contribute to the spread of communicable diseases throughout the developing world. Solar Steam is a new, highly efficient technology that converts water into steam for the sterilization of human waste. This technology also has the potential to be used for medical device sterilization and water purification.
Mobile/Electronic Health Care
mDiabetes (Arogya World): Cell phones are ubiquitous even in the most rural settings, thus opening up many doors for increasing health management and telehealth in the developing world. One such initiative is mDiabetes, a diabetes awareness and prevention text message program in India (four of every five people with diabetes live in the developing world).
Prepex Circumcision Device: Male circumcision reduces the risk of HIV transmission in men by 60%. Prepex is an adult male circumcision device that does not require anesthesia, sutures, or a sterile setting; it was recently endorsed by the WHO.
Neonatal Sepsis Prevention
SafeSnip: Infections account for a significant portion of the 3 million-plus neonatal deaths that occur each year. SafeSnip is a simple technology that facilitates clean umbilical cord cutting and tying, which is a step birthing process that typically carries high risk for infection.
Janma clean birth kit
Rebecca Richards-Kortum broke our arbitrary rule to limit this list to 10 and included four more categories.
Simulation-Based Training Operative Experience
Emergency C-sections (funded by SLAB)
Neonatal Respiratory Distress Treatment
Fortifying foods to improve nutrition
Iron-enriched millet seed: Billions suffer from malnutrition due to a lack of vitamins and minerals. Approximately half of all pregnant women and children suffer from iron deficiency in developing countries. HarvestPlus has developed and implemented in India, an iron-enriched millet seed that provides 30 percent of a woman’s daily iron.