The Butterfly iQ

Two-thirds of the world lacks life-saving access to medical imaging. However, new technology — such as portable ultrasound machines — brings modern medicine where it might not otherwise take root. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), up to 70 percent of technology designed in developed countries does not work in still-developing nations. Fully-equipped hospitals can be hours, or days, away from villages, leaving conditions undiagnosed and untreated.

A Handheld Ultrasound Finds A Wide Variety of Uses in Africa

In recent years, multiple companies have developed portable ultrasound technology, often with these remote areas in mind. The Butterfly Network, a Connecticut-based company, is one such organization, which launched its prototype known as the Butterfly iQ in 2017. The device costs approximately $2,000 and is around the same size as a cell phone. The company’s founder, Jonathan Rothberg, has donated scanners to 13 low-income countries, partnering with organizations like the Canadian Charity Bridge to Health and Uganda-based Kihefo. The organization also has backing from USAID to help further its reach.

Portable ultrasound machines like the Butterfly iQ, are largely being used to test for and treat pneumonia, which causes 15 percent of the deaths of children under 5 years old, killing more than 800,000 children in 2017 alone. The technology has also been used to examine goiters, tumors and other conditions that were otherwise difficult, or impossible, to assess.

In 2014, portable ultrasound machines in Africa took on a new life. Bridge to Health and Kihefo worked to offer women the opportunity to see their unborn children. They brought suitcase-sized ultrasounds to clinics and pulled in six times the normal number of visitors, among them women who had only seen traditional healers before.

In addition to its uses in ruling out tuberculosis and helping to reduce maternal and infant mortality rates, ultrasound technology is also an important diagnostic tool for patients with HIV.

Portable Technology Carries Back Into the Developed World

The Vscan Access from GE Healthcare was originally intended for frontline health care workers in Africa and Southeast Asia. However, the portable ultrasound machine has now found a place in developed countries such as Norway, where it offers an unobtrusive ultrasound in the maternity ward.

Compared to standard ultrasounds, which can not only be uncomfortable but also intimidating to expectant mothers, the Vscan Access is small, deterring worry. Its screen is still large enough to provide a full view of the womb, including the fetal position. Dr. Birgette Kahrs of St. Olav’s Hospital in Norway also notes how easy it is to teach midwives how to operate Vscan’s touchscreen technology.

An App Expands the Reach of the Portable Ultrasound

In 2018, Philips launched Lumify, an app-based portable ultrasound system in Kenya. The new tech was announced at the launch of Beyond Zero Medical Safari, an event hosted by Beyond Zero, an organization founded by the First Lady of the Republic of Kenya that aims at preventing child and maternal deaths.

Lumify unifies portable ultrasounds and mobile devices, creating channels for secure image exchange and processing. It is primarily designed for emergency centers and urgent care centers. The app would, through a subscription service, connect health care professionals around the world. Lumify will additionally offer support, training and IT help.

Lumify is compatible with soft and hard tissue scans. It allows for audio-visual calls, which can connect doctors to remote patients, allowing for diagnosis and treatment across the body and across the globe.

Portable ultrasound technology is still relatively new, so long-term benefits are still unmeasured. Still, portable ultrasounds in Africa, like the Butterfly IQ, already show massive potential in improving the medical status of people without access to first-world medical care. With supporters including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Butterfly iQ and devices like it, are only just getting started.

Katie Hwang
Photo: Unsplash

Feminine Product Companies that Give Back For people living in extreme poverty around the world, access to basic needs such as food, water, shelter and medical care is a daily struggle. In addition to this, women face another challenge — access to menstrual products like pads and tampons. In fact, 1 million women worldwide cannot afford sanitary products. This issue, called “period poverty,” is one that many people and organizations are trying to combat. Here are five feminine products that give back to women around the world.

5 Feminine Product Companies that Give Back to Women

  1. Cora – Cora is a company that sells organic tampons whose mission is to fight period poverty. Cora uses a portion of its monthly revenue to provide sustainable period management for women in India. The company also empowers women through employment and education opportunities. According to the company website, “with every Cora purchase, we provide pads and health education to a girl in need. We use the power of business to fight for gender equality and to provide products, education and jobs to girls and women in need in developing nations and right here at home.”
  2. Lunapads – Lunapads is a feminine product company that has been supporting menstrual and reproductive health as well as access to period education in the Global South since 2000 through an organization called Pads4Girls. Pads4Girls educates women about healthy and economically efficient period products, such as the use of washable cloth menstrual pads and underwear that can last for years. Pads4Girls has helped to supply 100,000+ reusable menstrual pads and period underwear to more than 17,000 menstruators in 18 different nations.
  3. Days for Girls – Days for Girls is an international organization whose mission is to address global issues surrounding period poverty and provide education and access to menstrual products to those living in poverty. The organization has been working to achieve this goal by developing global partnerships, cultivating social enterprises, mobilizing volunteers and innovating sustainable solutions that shatter stigmas and limitations for women and girls. To date, the Days for Girls movement has reached 1 million girls and counting.
  4. Bloody Good Period – Bloody Good Period is a period company based in the U.K. Gabby Edlin, the founder of the company, decided to do something about creating a sustainable flow of menstrual products for those who cannot afford them in the U.K. Bloody Good Period also sells merchandise and hosts events that highlight the stigmas around menstrual health and issues surrounding period poverty. The organization supplies 25 asylum seeker drop-in centers based in London and Leeds and supplies food banks and drop-in centers across the U.K. with period supplies.
  5. Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) – Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) is an organization whose main goal is to help women in Rwanda jumpstart locally owned franchises and businesses to manufacture and create affordable and eco-friendly pads. SHE works with local businesses to produce these pads with local farmers and manufacturing teams and works with these businesses on making pads affordable for those around the country. SHE also trains community health workers on how to provide education to boys and girls about puberty and menstrual hygiene. So far, SHE has allowed 60,101 girls and women living in poverty to have access to pads, and its mission has reached 4.3 million people through advocacy and social media.

Although the issue of period poverty continues to be a constant struggle for women and girls around the world, these were five feminine products that give back to women.

– Natalie Chen
Photo: Flickr

Uterine Balloon TamponadeThe Every Second Matters Uterine Balloon Tamponade (ESM-UBT), a device designed by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) to stop postpartum hemorrhaging (PPH), is a condom that is attached to a Foley catheter. When a mother experiences profuse bleeding which cannot be stopped through other means, the condom is placed within the uterine cavity and filled with water using a syringe and a one-way valve. Within minutes, the bleeding is expected to stop. This device has been effective in preventing fatalities associated with pregnancy and childbirth.

The device is easy to use and requires minimal training. Since the training of more than 850 South Sudanese health workers in 2010 and 2011, MGH began using and researching the usage of the device in the countries of India, South Sudan, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Senegal, Tanzania, Zambia, Peru, Honduras, Uganda and Nepal.

The Beginning Stages

Training of 46 health providers from 12 health centers to use the device began in Kenya in August 2012. During the first year after training, twenty-six ESM-UBTs were used. The patients who required the device were either unconscious or in an unstable mental state as a result of the severe bleeding they were experiencing. In each case, once the device was put into place, the bleeding was stopped, and the patients were saved. As a result of these successful interventions, the Kenyan Ministry of Health has formally integrated the program into the national policy for PPH.

The ESM-UBT’s Potential

A study was published in 2013 that predicted how many lives could potentially be saved by the use of a uterine balloon tamponade in the year 2018.  These predictions were made based on the availability, use, and efficiency of technologies in health care centers that provide maternal and neonatal services. The model estimated that when the use of a uterine balloon tamponade is implemented, 6,547 lives can be saved, which is an eleven percent decrease in maternal deaths, 10,823 surgeries can be prevented and 634 severe anemia cases can be avoided in sub-Saharan Africa every year.

In 2018, there was a case that involved complex vaginal lacerations which may have resulted in death, but the ESM-UBT was used to control the bleeding. The 26-year-old woman, who was 39 weeks pregnant, went to the Muhimbili National Referral Hospital in Tanzania to deliver her baby. Although she was in good health, she began experiencing significant blood loss. After uterine massage, administration of oxytocin and removal of the placenta, the patient was still bleeding and became unconscious.

Upon examining her pelvis, doctors discovered second degree bilateral vaginal sulcal lacerations. They attempted to suture the lacerations, but the bleeding persisted, so they decided to insert an ESM-UBT device, which was inflated with 300 cc of water. Finally, the bleeding stopped. After forty-eight hours, the device was removed, with no more need for repair. The mother left the hospital two days after giving birth and had fully recovered by her six-week postpartum visit.

As of now, over 670 ESM-UBT devices have been used. MGH has plans of distributing these devices to 350 health centers in South Sudan and Kenya. In addition, technology has been developed to allow for the tracking of referrals of this device as well as the results of its use. The ESM-UBT device has great potential to reduce the number of maternal deaths in developing nations.

– Sareen Mekhitarian
Photo: Unsplash

Ways to Improve Health in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s healthcare system is in need of reformation. Since 2000, approximately three million health workers have fled the nation, and the health of the society has suffered since then. Non-governmental organizations around the world are currently working together to improve healthcare in Zimbabwe.

NGOs are working hard to fix the issue of lack of adequate healthcare; here are ways to improve health in Zimbabwe.

Ways to Improve Health in Zimbabwe

  • Investing in disease treatment and prevention: Zimbabwe suffers from a lack of health workers; there are only about 1.23 health workers per 1,000 citizens. Because of this, it is difficult to treat epidemics of communicable diseases like cholera and HIV. A cholera outbreak in 2008 killed 4,000 people due to the small number of available doctors. USAID recognizes this as a problem, and every year, the organization donates nearly $100 million to disease treatment programs in Zimbabwe.  The prevalence of HIV has lowered from 14 percent to 13.3 percent in one year, but more can be done to treat other infectious diseases.
  • Improving clinics: Another way to improve healthcare in Zimbabwe is to invest in the advancement of medical clinics. Most clinics in Zimbabwe are overcrowded and undeveloped, but the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) plans to renovate 52 clinics in the region. The renovations include storage for crucial medications and space for sanitation and hygienic facilities. Additionally, UNDP’s Global Fund implemented a new health information system to hasten responses to outbreaks and epidemics. These positive changes have contributed to steady rates of health workers’ job retention.
  • Aiding expectant mothers: Pregnant women are one group that is most reliant on Zimbabwe’s healthcare system. Since 2014, World Bank’s Global Funding Facility has helped rebuild the deteriorated system. One revamping program, the Urban Voucher Program, provides free maternity care to women living in the bottom 40 percent of average annual income. Before the UVP, women would have to pay a $25 fee to visit a health clinic, and most of them were not able to afford it. After the implementation of the vouchers, family planning and neonatal services have strengthened in low-income communities, significantly reducing the amount of money that families spend on healthcare. While maternal mortality rate was 614 deaths per 100,000 births in 2014, it decreased to 443 deaths per 100,000 births during the first year of the UVP.

More can be done to improve healthcare in Zimbabwe. The success of these NGOs can mobilize others to join in on the efforts against disease and poverty.

– Katherine Desrosiers
Photo: Flickr

Innovations in sub-Saharan Africa are emerging, aiming to improve sanitary conditions and facilitate access to medical care, directly combatting some of the region’s most prominent health crises. Due to health and sanitation concerns being a primary factor in high rates of illness and morbidity, advances in technology are progressively bettering the quality of life of many citizens in these regions.

7 Health Care Innovations in sub-Saharan Africa

  1. The Mamaope Jacket
    In Uganda, a leading cause of infant mortality is pneumonia. In its early stages, pneumonia can be difficult to distinguish from malaria. As a result, misdiagnosis is the leading cause of infant and toddler deaths attributed to pneumonia. One of the innovations of sub-Saharan Africa became the solution to reducing the impacted community. The Mamaope Jacket was created by a Ugandan engineer, Brian Turyabagye. This Mamope Jacket records audio of a child’s breathing via a modified stethoscope inserted into a vest. Analyzing this data aids in detecting key signs of pneumonia. It is estimated that the Mamaope Jacket’s diagnostic rate is three to four times faster than a traditional doctor, and also greatly reduces the risk of human error.
  2. SafariSeat
    Access to wheelchairs and other assisted mobility devices is severely limited in rural regions of developing nations. However, the SafariSeat is changing this; the SafariSeat is an inexpensive, durable wheelchair. This offers both a solution to individuals living with limited mobility in rural areas and is environmentally sustainable. SafariSeat is both produced and maintained using bicycle parts to create a wheelchair suitable for use in all terrain types.
  3. NIFTY Cup
    The NIFTY cup is lowering the rate of infant deaths from malnourishment by providing a cost-effective, convenient way to feed newborns unable to breastfeed. Some causes of not being able to breastfeed include birth defects such as a cleft palate or premature birth. Amongst the other innovations of Sub-Saharan Africa, the NIFTY cup funnels breast milk from the main cup into a small reservoir that a baby can sip from easily without choking or spilling. The creator, a mother herself, Trish Coffey, created the NIFTY cup after giving birth to her daughter prematurely. Manufacturing a NIFTY cup costs just $1, a viable alternative to breastfeeding for impoverished rural communities such as Tanzania and Malawi. In addition, it is reusable.
  4. Flo
    In developing African nations such as Kenya, on average, girls miss a week of school per month due to menstruating. This is because of the stigma associated with periods and limited sanitation resources. That being said, Flo is a reusable menstrual hygiene kit equipped. Within this kit, are reusable pads, a discreet carrying pouch, and a container used while washing clothes to avoid soiling other garments. This offers a cost-effective, environmentally friendly method for women lacking disposable alternatives. Flo opens the door for greater educational and occupational opportunities. It also lowers the rate of reproductive diseases resulting from poor menstrual hygiene.
  5. LifeStraw
    With more than 10 percent of the global population lacking access to sources of clean drinking water, diseases resulting from consuming contaminated water are a major contributor to high child mortality rates. Approximately, illnesses from drinking contaminated water kill a child every 90 seconds. The high temperatures and unpredictable climate shifts in the sub-Saharan region make potable water extremely valuable, but can also cause availability to fluctuate. Innovations in sub-Saharan African, such as LifeStraw is a simple, portable device that uses a mesh fiber to filter out bacteria and parasites commonly found in contaminated water. The LifeStraw corporation works with major humanitarian organizations such as World Health Organization and the United Nations to provide both individual LifeStraw filtration devices and larger filtration systems to developing communities in need.
  6. Speaking Books
    There is a lack of information about mental illness available to impoverished communities in Sub-Saharan Africa. As a result, there is a higher rate of suicide among younger populations. Just a decade ago, more than 15 percent of South Africans afflicted with mental illness had little to no access to any kind of treatment. Zane Wilson, the founder of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, created a range of free audio pamphlets on mental health. Innovations in sub-Saharan Africa like Speaking Books have a goal to combat the lack of access to treatment, which in many rural areas, also reflects high rates of illiteracy. The Speaking Books series now offers 48 different booklets explaining and destigmatizing mental health disorders. Furthermore, these pamphlets are available in 24 languages and distribution spans among 20 African countries.
  7. Tutu Tester Van
    Although HIV is a global epidemic, South Africa has especially high rates of infection. As a result, the country’s rate of tuberculosis has dramatically spiked over the last two decades. However, because of the stigma surrounding HIV, very few communities have access to effective counseling, testing and treatment methods. The Tutu Tester van, introduced by the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation, is a fully-staffed clinic on wheels. They visit rural and impoverished communities to provide health screenings using modern equipment – including tests for HIV and TB. As a result, this reduces the stigma attached to these diseases, as patients retain anonymity once they enter the van. Globally, increasing availability to testing is a primary goal of the United Nation’s plan to eliminate the epidemic of HIV by 2030.

Access to these health care innovations in sub-Saharan Africa is having numerous impactful effects: reducing mortality rates, advancing mental health awareness, contributing to greater longevity and improving quality of life for people in impoverished communities across the region. With improved healthcare and sanitation access,  communities have greater chances of reducing poverty and increasing economic and cultural growth.

– Emmitt Kussrow

Photo: Flickr