A hand-powered centrifuge, an inflatable donkey saddle for women in labor, and a baby warmer resembling a miniature sleeping bag are some examples of pioneering innovations in the area of low-cost medical devices. Most developed countries have access to the latest, life-saving medical technologies. What are emerging markets doing in these areas?
Medical technology has often been overlooked as a remedy to diseases in developing countries. While the United Nations and other international agencies have done a commendable job in getting essential medical supplies to those in need, the same is not true when it comes to medical devices.
World over, experts have constantly debated on the need to make important, medical devices and technologies easily available to low- and middle-income population at cheaper rates. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also identified areas where such devices or low-cost tools can garner widespread acceptance, and recommends investments in the development of infant warmers, water purifiers, parasite detection systems, and child safety seats. The WHO compendium report on new and emerging technologies for the year 2013 even showcases 16 low-cost innovations within the medical devices category.
Yet technological innovation in affordable medical technology often takes a backseat due to the lack of commercial appeal. Irrespective of this, several organizations continue to be at the forefront of developing affordable healthcare solutions for the poor and needy.
In India, a portable device allows health workers to diagnose anemia on a person’s doorstep - a boon for workers assisting pregnant women in remote areas, who are often unable to travel to health centers for checkups. Elsewhere, the SEARCH program (Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health) has developed a simple-yet-comprehensive abacus and hourglass combination that helps health workers, with limited literacy and numeracy skills, count breaths in order to diagnose pneumonia in infants.
Instances of similar low-cost technological innovation can be found across the world. To mitigate cases of hypothermia and death among infants, a team at the Stanford University’s Institute of Design has developed “Embrace” - a low-cost infant warmer.
The deployment of low-cost technology is even embracing big data. For example, statistics on births and deaths are important when it comes to decision-making. Now a software tool - Magpi, allows individuals to effortlessly collect and track vital health data in rural, remote areas through mobile phones. Since its inception, 20,000 users in more than 170 countries have used Magpi for data collection.
Clearly, the growing impetus towards developing low-cost innovative solutions could ensure more affordable healthcare in developing countries and even benefit the developed world.
How else can technology contribute to improving healthcare in underprivileged areas? Please leave your comments in the section below.