KAMPALA, Uganda — Ebola: the trendiest epidemic of the 2010s. Philip Ross of the International Business Times stated that it took the lives of 4,877 people, mostly in West Africa. Yet the World Health Organization, or WHO, believes that the numbers are underreported and could, in fact, be as much as three times greater.
But organizations are fighting back. Recently, USAID and a coterie of other government organizations came up with a Grand Challenge for Development designed to target Ebola.
The Challenge has been largely successful. In a matter of weeks there were over 1,500 ideas submitted that focused on the redefinition of Ebola Treatment Units, or ETUs, according to director of USAID’s Center for Accelerating Innovation and Impact, Wendy Taylor.
Three ideas have been given funding, including an innovative ergonomic tent design. The idea came from ResilientAfrica Network and Makerere University of Kampala jointly.
This new tent was chosen for its portability, low cost and improved airflow capacity. Its funding will cover some of the research and developmental costs, as well as prototyping and user testing. The first prototype’s scheduled release is sometime around next August.
Team leaders Prof. William Bazeyo and Dr. Roy William Mayega described the tent as “a modification of the traditional tent and maintains the current tent design in simplicity, affordability, and structural stability.”
They went on to explain that the new design “offers a revolutionized mechanism for heat and air exchange in two ways: Creating a system for convectional currents using ambient air and creating porous walls that allow air exchange to cool the tent interior.”
Promising a “non-exclusive, royalty-free, perpetual license to use any resultant or derived intellectual property including product, service, or technology that will be developed using this grant,” Bazeyo and Mayega said that USAID must use the license for humanitarian development that targets poor countries.
However, they added that Makerere University School of Public Health would claim majority rights to the intellectual property of the design in the event that there was any accrual from it.
Hopes for the new tent design are high among team members. “We believe that [it]will revolutionize working conditions for humanitarian workers and first responders working in camps in hot climates where the use of temporary structures is vital,” they said.
Further, they added, “The tent is the super-structure that houses most of the operations of the Ebola Treatment Units. In the heat stressed environments of ETUs in tropical Africa, improved air-circulation in the tent structure will reduce average temperatures…thereby positively impacting the comfort of health workers.”
In addition to tents, the USAID is promoting preventative measures along the lines of wearable technology. On March 14, the agency revealed a new bio-medical suit and the MultiSense Memory sensor.
This suit, a standout among 1,500 suit submissions, was developed at Johns Hopkins. It consists of a one-piece garment that has anti-fogging and cooling systems. It is much more easily put on than its multi-part predecessors, which took up to half-an-hour to don.
In addition to the suit, the MultiSense Memory patch, known colloquially as the “smart ‘Band-Aid’,” was designed as a replacement to the stethoscope. It is a comprehensive technology that grips to the patient’s sternum using adhesive and takes a baseline rating of his vitals: heart rate, temperature and oxygen saturation. The kicker is that the patch can measure any and all changes from the baseline.
At $100 per patch, this “Band-Aid” may be the most expensive to ever hit the medical market. Consumers would pay not only for the built-in technology, but also for the patch’s seven to 10 day battery life. According to USAID executives, Ebola cases average five days once the patients are treated.
These three technologies make up mere pieces of a myriad of Ebola cures likely to come out in the next three years. For more information, visit www.ebolagrandchallenge.net.
– Leah Zazofsky
Photo: NBC News