GENEVA — In 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) saw the power of technological innovation and wanted to apply those same resources to new health technologies for developing nations. The organization was specifically interested in identifying technological innovations that save lives and were well suited to be manufactured and administered in a cost-effective and accessible manner in emerging markets.
WHO’s call for innovative technologies is broken into two categories: Category 1 innovations are either already commercialized and in-use in high-income countries. Category 2 innovations have not yet been commercialized and may still be in theoretical/developmental stages, but have great potential.
Here are five of the most promising Category 1 technological innovations that save lives:
LED phototherapy unit
LED phototherapy units are used to treat hyperbilirubinemia, more commonly known as jaundice, in newborns. By using a blue radiation source, babies being treated with phototherapy are kept safer by not being exposed to the alternative treatment that uses potentially harmful ultraviolet radiation. The design is also suited to regions with lower access to electricity, as it is more energy efficient than its predecessors.
On-site production of wound irrigation solution
The leading causes of non-disease related deaths in developing nations are trauma and infection, making efficient wound sanitation a must for hospitals in developing countries. This system produces on-site wound irrigation solution through three ingredients: a power source, demineralized water and salt. Being more cost effective and readily available than limited pre-made alternatives, this innovation ensures that hospitals are less likely to run out of topical wound treatment solutions that prevent a host of life-threatening infections.
Reusable neonatal suction
In 2013, more than six million children died under the age of five, with more than half of these deaths being preventable through simple intervention. The leading causes of infant death include pneumonia and birth asphyxia. This simple reusable suction device is designed to remove obstructive mucus from the air passages of infants to reduce the risk of asphyxia and later development of pneumonia. Made of durable silicone, it is boilable and does not require a power source, making it perfect for hospital and in-home deliveries.
Isothermal nucleic acid amplification system for tuberculosis diagnosis
In 2014, more than nine million people died from tuberculosis (TB), with 95 percent of deaths occurring in developing nations. However, approximately 48 million people have been saved from early screening and treatment from 2000-2014. To speed up the process and accuracy of screening for TB, the isothermal nucleic acid amplification system is a self-contained unit that is an alternative to sputum smear microscopy. The device offers a quick turn-around time and has a digital readout of results.
Stool sample collection and preparation kit
This kit enables doctors in developing and low-income regions to easily test patient stool samples without electricity, water or recontamination of the environment. This kit also makes testing patients for potentially life-threatening parasitic diseases faster and more accurate.
WHO says that there are also Category 2 technologies to get excited about, including solar-powered medical instrument sterilization, portable cell sorters and counters for HIV and malaria diagnosis, as well as simplified anesthesia units. WHO is optimistic that bigger and better technological innovations that save lives are waiting on the horizon.
Sources: WHO 1, WHO 2, WHO 3, WHO 4, Sage Journals, UNICEF
Photo: BP Global