New technologies for low-cost treatment

March 1, 2019

Communicable illnesses thrive in tropical conditions, where people who live in poverty, without adequate sanitation and in close contact with infectious vectors are most affected. Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) are reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) to affect over a billion people and is very costly to developing economies.

But new medical technologies have tremendous potential to remedy the situation, and innovations are fast becoming a clinical reality that can help the marginalized population:

  • Painless insulin

Researchers from MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital have engineered an inexpensive coating that can safely carry insulin beyond the digestive system and into the bloodstream. Once swallowed, the pea-sized pill issues a spring-activated dart of insulin directly into the wall of the stomach, bypassing other gastric organs and retaining efficacy.

  • Antimicrobial paint

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can infect hospital surfaces and harm patients who are already immunocompromised, resulting in about 100,000 deaths annually in the US and 700,000 deaths globally. Leading paint companies have developed antimicrobial coatings which are resistant to microbes, mould, and fungi. Hospitals can now add antibacterial paint to their disease-fighting toolbox; the paint can be applied to medical equipment and supplies to prevent unnecessary fatalities.

  • Water to identify counterfeit pharmaceuticals

Fraud severely costs the global economy in every industry, including healthcare – the authenticity of medicine is difficult to monitor and some poorer countries have nearly 70% of counterfeit drugs. Researchers from the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) are developing highly-secure crypto-anchors or digital fingerprints to be embedded into medical products and linked to a blockchain to prove their authenticity. The researchers have offered the example of embedding a crypto-anchor in an edible magnetic ink – a drop of water would later visibly activate the secure blockchain code, assuring consumers the pill is authentic and safe to consume.

  • Free public Wi-Fi

Lack of reliable access to a network connection can have devastating consequences in a health crisis – in rural Africa, most inhabitants rely on mobile internet, but connectivity is awful.Kenyan startup BRCK has created Moja, a stable, free public Wi-Fi device to be used in areas with limited internet access. The improved connection might have tremendous impact for disease management even when conditions are tough.

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