The New Minimalism: Five Low-Cost Health Gadgets Express Genius in Simplicity
Around the world, innovators are going back to basics. Since September, The New York Times has been running an ongoing segment, “Small Fixes,” featuring low-cost health solutions that have a big impact.
The simple solutions include using vinegar to assist in removing pre-cancerous cervical lesions and folding a sari cloth four times to create a filter that reduces 99 percent of cholera in water.
The innovations featured in the NYT are remarkable in their simplicity, affordability, and cleverness. (The NYT did, however, include LifeStraw in its featured solutions, which has been under fire for the past year for its controversial incorporation of carbon credits to offset its steep production costs.)
With the simplest of solutions often proving to be the most effective (a la Occam’s razor), we at Changemakers have become fascinated with the new wave of low-cost health gadgets, which could dramatically reverse health care’s trend towards the more complex and expensive. Here are five more emerging health innovations — elegantly simple and affordable — to look for on the horizon. We think they’re pretty nifty, and hope you will, too.
Biosense Technologies has developed a portable device called ToucHb, which instantly measures hemoglobin without requiring a finger pinprick. The device allows health workers to diagnose anemia on a person’s doorstep. It’s a boon for workers assisting pregnant women in remote areas, who are often unable to travel to health centers for checkups.
The test is inexpensive, non-invasive, and can be completed without bio-waste. Biosense is a current entrant in the Making More Health Competition.
© Maternova, not for further distribution or duplication
This simple-yet-comprehensive abacus and hourglass combination helps health workers, with limited literacy and numeracy skills, count breaths in order to diagnose pneumonia in infants. Developed by Abhay and Rani Bang and their SEARCH program (Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health) in Gadchioroli, this simple gadget was featured recently on Maternova.net, an online resource that connects doctors, nurses, and midwives with the latest, low-cost innovations that save the lives of mothers and infants.
Low-weight and premature babies born in impoverished areas without access to modern technology face hypothermia and death. The Embrace Incubator, which looks like a miniature sleeping bag, helps infants regulate their body temperatures and costs less than one percent of a traditional incubator (which costs around $20,000 in the United States). The Embrace team grew out of participation in the Extreme Design for Extreme Affordability course at Stanford University’s Institute of Design.
Oxford Medical Diagnostics (OMD) is working on new technology to diagnose diabetes by analyzing minute levels of acetone in the breath. Acetone is a breath biomarker that indicates high levels of the breakdown of fat, one primary symptom of diabetes. Two devices are in development: Cavity Enhanced Absorption Spectroscopy (CEAS) for screening and diagnosis, and Plasma Emission Spectroscopy (PES), a handheld device that will provide an easy way for diabetic patients to conduct daily monitoring—all without the dreaded pinprick.
MIT’s Innovations in International Health program is at the cutting edge of producing innovative, ultra-low-cost medical tools for health workers in resource-strapped regions. One of the gadgets under development is called MEDIK, or Medical Design and Invention Kits, and taps into the natural creativity of health workers in the field.
“Medical Design and Invention Kits are a series of lab-in-box kits that serve as ‘Erector sets’ for medical devices,” according to the IIH blog. “Our approach is to nurture inventive behavior amongst ‘McGuyver docs and nurses’ working in global health. We already know that they are coming up with ingenious ways around everyday problems.”
Jose Gomez-Marquez, Program Director at Innovations in International Health, served as an expert judge in the Designing for Better Health competition
Maternova was an early entry prize winner of the Healthy Mothers, Strong World competition.
Stanford’s Extreme Design for Extreme Affordability course also incubated Respira Design, a solution involving a simple paper asthma breather that won the Changemakers Disruptive Innovations in Health and Health Care competition.