RENO, Nevada — With no electricity to heat food, or homes, the developing world often turns to the open flame. Whether it is a wood or coal fire, the fumes are poorly ventilated and the risk of burns is exponential when trying to keep the flame alive inside one’s home 24 hours a day.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 265,000 deaths every year are caused by burns. The vast majority of these burns occur in low and middle-income countries, where according to the WHO, burns are among of the leading causes of morbidity.
ReSurge International is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing reconstructive surgery for people in developing countries. At the beginning of 2014, the NGO paired with Stanford University’s design school called Design for Extreme Affordability.
This program pairs college students and global partners to develop solutions to problems facing people who live on around $2 a day. Three separate groups researched, and determined, three separate problems facing the victims and doctors, in regards to burns in rural Nepal.
They aided victims at the village level by implementing a new burn phone hotline. The second team aided the health system level when it implemented on the first ever skin bank in a Nepali hospital. HandHero was invented to help doctors on the final level, the operating room level.
Burns on the hands and arms are among the biggest problems facing the citizens of these low-income countries. When the scar tissue heals from these severe burns it will contract and their skin will tighten until their fingers clench into an immovable fist.
When these injuries go untreated they leave their victims with disfiguring disabilities that cost an estimated $80.2 billion a year in lost productivity. According to the WHO, “burns are the second most common injury in rural Nepal, accounting for five percent of disabilities.”
It was during a sit-in session with one of the many volunteer doctors that the team was inspired to create HandHero. Mohan Dangol, ReSurge’s hand therapist in Kathmandu, was painstakingly creating an expensive custom splint for a young girl named Bishnu. The team was also informed that “lack of access to long-term physical therapy is one of the factors that result in permanent disability for burn survivors.”
The team developed a prototype adjustable hand splint with a total cost that came in under $20. Burn patients who traveled from rural villages are hard pressed to return for physical therapy. With HandHero they can adjust the splint on their hand with a dial gradually returning mobility to their hand.
The team has since sent their prototypes to rural China, India and Nepal where team members and doctors have begun the trial process. The team itself is returning to Nepal in December to conduct their own clinical trials.
Joe Lippi, ReSurge’s director of medical programs and impact commented positively on the team’s work when he said “Many of the supplies needed to effectively treat severe burns are currently cost prohibitive in places like Nepal. The innovations these students are developing hold great promise for addressing this neglected health issue and ultimately for improving health outcomes.”
– Frederick Wood
Sources: Interaction, Barco’s Nightingales, HandHero Splint, WHO