Boston conference on technology and global health.

The World Health Medical Technology Conference, was a “workshop dedicated to exploring the opportunities and challenges of designing, building and funding medical technologies for the developing world.”

In other words, trying to find inexpensive tests and treatments that are simple to use and don’t require a lot of infrastructure, like labs and clean water.  

BHN sat in on the morning sessions at BU, which features presentations from local groups, including Cambridge’s “Diagnostics for All.”  Una Ryan, the group’s CEO, said: “We have all this advanced and innovative technology and we don’t know how to get it to the people who need it the most.”

So, the non-profit has created a tiny, paper diagnostic tool that works like a home pregnancy test.  Imagine a miniature game of Twister. Instead of a foot, health care worker can put a drop of blood on one of the dots. The dot then changes color based on, say, how well the patient’s liver is functioning.

 Since hepatitis and drugs for HIV and TB can cause liver damage, this simple, inexpensive test will allow docs to monitor patients even if in remote villages with no roads and a couple of generators for electricity.  The costs – ten cents. The group plans to use the technology to give rural health workers tools to test for and monitor TB, malaria, HIV/AIDS, and diabetes.

The session also featured a presentation on a Seattle group called PATH, which describes itself as an international nonprofit organization that creates sustainable, culturally relevant solutions, enabling communities worldwide to break longstanding cycles of poor health.” Among other projects, PATH is   working with a Cambridge start up called Daktari on an inexpensive hand-held device that can perform key blood tests on patients with HIV/AID.

Daktari was founded in 2008 by Bill Rodriguez, who has worked at both Harvard and at the Clinton Foundation, and Mehmet Toner, a Harvard/MIT engineer.

Innovation was the theme, as the morning speakers said many existing devices simply can’t be adapted to work in communities without water, doctors, or electricity.

“The technologies we use to diagnose diseases are way too complex,” Rodriguez said. “They were never designed to work in these settings.”

So for details, check out the Mass Device blog.


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