Some high-tech healthcare devices can be created inexpensively and may be beneficial worldwide. Devices which utilize local resources, often referred to as Appropriate Technologies, are especially valuable as they often make use of the skills of local craftsmen and rely on readily available materials. According to Danielle Zurovcik, student researcher at MIT, these devices have the potential to greatly improve care in clinics that “don’t have power, don’t have a lot of supplies.”
Using automobile parts, including headlights, an HVAC, and tires, which are common in even remote regions of the world, researchers have created an incubator in the hopes of decreasing infant mortality rates. By using car parts, researchers were able to create a device that could be fabricated and repaired by auto mechanics and others with limited or no training building or repairing medical equipment. In addition, the prototype incubator uses electricity, but also has a motorcycle battery to provide power if it is not available.
Low-cost diagnostic and treatment devices have also been developed to allow for access to these services in areas where they might otherwise be limited. Undergraduate students at Rice University have developed a centrifuge that can be constructed using a salad spinner and other common plastic items. Like conventional centrifuges, it is able to separate blood samples in only 10 minutes. These samples can then be used to test for anemia, as well as tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV/AIDS. Another simple device was created by students at MIT to help speed the healing process of wounds. The small molded plastic pump can be used to apply suction to a wound, helping to keep the draw away bacteria and wound clean, as well as allowing it to heal more quickly.
Medical devices and aids for individuals with disabilities have also been conceived for use in areas with limited resources. In many areas, low vision is a tremendous problem, affecting literacy and employment rates. In spite of the great need, eyeglasses and the personnel needed to properly fit them, are frequently not available. To address this need, Oxford University professor Josh Silver devised a solution: eyeglasses with fluid filled sacs inside the lenses, whereby the amount of fluid can be adjusted by the user to change the power of the lens. Simple, low-cost devices have also been created to allow individuals with disabilities to communicate with care givers. The Communication Board was developed by the Center for International Rehabilitation’s (CIR) Yeongchi Wu, MD in the early 1980s using only a sheet of paper and pen. The simple and low-cost device can also be used in nursing homes or intensive care units.
Innovative Appropriate Technologies which utilize local resources can help improve the quality and availability of healthcare worldwide. There is often a stigma attached to lower-cost and lower-tech devices, as more expensive can be perceived as better, however their use in the developed and developing world may prove beneficial in reducing overall healthcare costs.
Vote for the Communication Board on Instructables – May 23-30, 2010
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