Innovating Global Healthcare
Access to adequate healthcare remains a challenge for people around the globe living in poverty. Continuously increasing healthcare costs exacerbate this issue and the final result is that more people in need are suffering as a consequence. The term “catastrophic health spending” refers to a person who spends more than 10% of their income on “out-of-pocket,” healthcare expenses. According to a report from the World Health Organization, 926.6 million people dealt with catastrophic health spending of at least 10% of their income in 2015. Furthermore, 208.7 million people endured health costs that were more than 25% of their income. These figures may indicate a need for innovating global healthcare, going forward.

Medtronic Improving Global Health Conditions

As part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the third goal focuses on improving health conditions. Specifically, section 3.8 aims to reduce cost barriers to life-saving treatments and medicine. Medtronic understands the value of this mission and is one company leading the way for innovations in global healthcare. As part of the company’s commitment to “alleviate pain, restore health, and extend life,” Medtronic continues to combine technology and patient-centered care to improve access to health services and resources for vulnerable populations, worldwide.

Medtronic invests heavily in finding solutions for noncommunicable diseases (NCD), i.e. diseases that cannot spread from one individual to another. Often these are chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and even hearing loss. In 2012, 68% of global deaths were caused by an NCD and while organizations are fighting to lower that number — approximately half of the global population are unable to access critical care.

3 Ways to Combat NCDs

An important part of Medtronic’s innovations in global healthcare stems from the idea of evolving medical practices. In the company’s efforts to combat NCDs, it concentrates on three areas: (1) capacity building, (2) community engagement and (3) sustaining programs. The capacity building portion of Medtronic’s commitment ensures that healthcare workers are well-equipped to understand their roles and responsibilities in the healthcare system. Moreover, it advocates for up-to-date training and professional feedback for workers. Medtronic’s community engagement aspect connects various organizations to broaden resources for populations in need of services. In this way, Medtronic scales back some of the barriers to care that many people face. Lastly, by gearing toward sustainable programming, Medtronic dedicates time to working with governments and policymakers to cultivate lasting change within the healthcare system itself.

Breaking Down Barriers with Programs & Patents

Medtronic has served more than 75 million people in more than 150 countries, since its start. It also has licenses to 47,800 patents — embracing the potential of new technologies to break down certain barriers. Patents for Humanity is a program of the United States Patent and Trademark Office and celebrates companies that use inventions to address humanitarian issues. In 2018, the program recognized Medtronic for its progress in innovating global healthcare. The patent in question was for a “portable, low-water kidney dialysis machine” that can be used for those who normally would not have access to traditional dialysis treatments.

Medtronic has also launched programs that integrate its technologies, combined with compassionate business models. Empower Health is one such program — utilizing a mobile tablet, an automated blood pressure machine, a glucometer and a new software application. The program allows healthcare workers to remotely monitor diabetic patients located in Ghana and Kenya. Through the software, clinicians can keep current on their patients’ status and can even send messages and write prescriptions.

While many challenges still face vulnerable populations all over the world, Medtronic is fostering new and exciting developments in the realm of global health.

– Melanie McCrackin
Photo: Flickr

CATCH Technology for Virus DiscoveryAccurate and efficient virus detection is needed now more than ever. In areas like Africa, one of the most prevalent diseases is the viral disease of HIV/AIDS. Thousands of people die every year due to viral diseases like HIV/AIDS and even the seemingly harmless flu. The most recent of viruses is COVID-19, the rapidly spreading virus that has led to a global pandemic. CATCH technology for virus discovery provides hope for a less disease-stricken future.

CATCH Technology for Virus Discovery

First developed in 2019 by scientists at the Broad Institute, CATCH provides scientists with an efficient new way to detect and code viruses. In scientific terms, CATCH stands for Compact Aggregation of Targets for Comprehensive Hybridization. CATCH is a computational method that allows scientists and users to design probes that then catch genetic material for all viruses known to humans. This tool is particularly helpful for viruses like Zika, which is very difficult to see in clinical samples. CATCH is able to very accurately and quickly detect even viruses that occur in low abundance in clinical samples. Due to these abilities, CATCH could play a key role in future disease prevention and treatment.

Advantages of CATCH

  1. It is adaptable. As new mutations and strains of viruses are discovered and uploaded to the GenBank database, CATCH users can quickly redesign a set of probes with up-to-date information.
  2. It is efficient at detecting viruses. The Zika outbreak in 2015 proved to be particularly problematic because the Zika virus was not easily detectable within the human body. Zika is difficult to detect because even in patients who contract the virus, blood samples would often have a very low amount of actual Zika virus particles. This is where CATCH proves to be such a groundbreaking method for virus detection. CATCH can detect even the lowest amount of virus particles present in a sample.
  3. It has the power to detect all human viruses. While the first version of CATCH only targeted 20 viruses, as the software developed, the number of viruses it targeted expanded. Now, CATCH has the ability to target all forms of viruses known to infect humans. As more viruses are discovered, they can be easily added to CATCH.
  4. It is accessible. The software for CATCH is available to any member of the public on Github and the development and validation of the tool is available via an online scientific website, Nature Biotechnology.

Impact of CATCH in Africa

In a study by researchers Hayden Metsky and Katie Siddle, data gathered using CATCH helped discover that the ZIka virus was present in several regions, months before scientists could detect it.

At the time of the Lassa outbreak in Nigeria in 2018, the Lassa virus was difficult to sequence and hard to detect. The researchers proved that by using CATCH, content of the samples of the 2018 Lassa virus could be rescued. This means that the Lassa virus will be more easily detectable.

The above results warrant the use of CATCH technology for virus discovery and for future outbreaks. The CATCH tool can be used to provide low-cost disease surveillance and the information required to control outbreaks. In the very depths of a viral pandemic like COVID-19, the CATCH tool creates hope for the future of global health.

Lucia Kenig-Ziesler
Photo: Flickr

solar power in chileChile, among the most stable countries in South America, has completely turned its energy crisis around. In recent years, solar power in Chile has become a model for green energy infrastructure around the world.

Five Facts About Solar Power in Chile

  1. In 2014 Chile was on the brink of an energy crisis. At that time, a drought waged war against 33% of Chile’s energy that relied on hydroelectric power. Copper mining in Chile had also started to draw more energy and has continued to rapidly increase its energy consumption. Consequently, the cost of energy for Chile’s 17.9 million people had increased by 20% since 2010, and prices were expected only to continue to rise.

  2. Solar power in Chile saved the day. In response to this imminent national disaster, Chile invested its efforts into solar panels. The nation soon became the first in Latin America to produce more than one gigawatt of solar energy. The industry continued to grow, and Chile now relies on renewable energy for 22.8% of its power as of December 2019; 47% of this energy is solar energy. In March 2020, Chile produced 1,300 gigawatt-hours of renewable energy.

  3. Chile’s economy has since boomed. In 2000, the percentage of people in Chile living in poverty sat at 30%, but by 2013 that number had fallen to 14.4%. The approach of an energy crisis in 2014 appeared to threaten this upswing. Yet, with the help of solar power, Chile avoided this tragedy. In 2017 the rate of Chileans living below the poverty line dropped even further, to only 8.6%.

  1. Energy prices now reflect Chile’s economic success. Since the adoption of solar power in Chile, the cost of energy to its citizens has dropped considerably. The cost of copper dropped soon after Chile embraced solar energy as its savior. This caused the northern half of the country to come into an excess of energy, resulting in 192 days of free energy for people living there in 2015. This marked an enormous improvement from the expensive energy prices of 2014.

  2. Chile has immense solar power potential. Because of its flat ground and abundant solar radiation, the Atacama Desert possesses some of the largest solar power potential on Earth. The 123-megawatt Granja solar plant exemplifies Chile’s ability to harvest that potential. Completed by Solarpack in March 2020, Granja represents Chile’s dedication to ecological progress and green energy. Plus, at $21.10 per megawatt-hour, in 2016, the Granja project was regarded as having the most competitive energy price.

Chile’s explosive solar energy sector has impressed the world and improved the lives of its people. Such ecological and economic harmony presents a model for other countries that wish to follow in Chile’s footsteps.

Will Sikich
Photo: Flickr

ACIP Digital Health PlatformOn June 23, 2020, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) had its virtual release of the Africa Communication and Information Platform for Economic and Health Action (ACIP). The ACIP digital health platform was created to be a two-way communication network between African governments and its citizens, to better inform both parties and improve healthcare and services across the continent.

ACIP in a Health Crisis

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic prompted the creation of the ACIP digital health platform. Statistics from June 27, 2020, show over 370,000 active cases of COVID-19 and 9,500 deaths in Africa. The rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus forced the African continent and the entire world into a major health crisis, affecting the social and economic wellbeing of governments and its citizens. As economies shut down, industries closed and job losses increased, more and more people became economically vulnerable and fell into deeper poverty.

Key Functions of ACIP

ACIP serves as a disease surveillance and data collection tool that will help mitigate the socio-economic effects of COVID-19 in Africa by informing resource allocation and response decisions.

A key part of the platform operates similarly to a search engine, identifying and predicting trends and providing information on where resources or responses are most needed. The ACIP digital health platform will also enable users to access locally relevant health advisories and medical advice, including a symptom checker.

The goal of the platform is to improve the way governments communicate with people to learn more about the current pandemic and how to help citizens. The data collected will be analyzed by the National COVID-19 Taskforce, the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Finance and other African organizations, to gain better insight on the pandemic in order to form better health responses and strategies. By having a solid network to gather information on the virus, governments can better manage the virus and possibly reduce its spread. ACIP will gather public health data from user surveys conducted on the platform.

Collaboration is Key

The ECA collaborated with four major mobile network providers to make the free ACIP digital health platform easily accessible to everyone. However, there are still many people who cannot afford internet access, especially during the economic uncertainty that COVID-19 has brought. The ECU is working alongside stakeholders to resolve internet access and cost issues that may pose a roadblock in accessing the platform. Currently, the platform can already reach over 80% of Africa’s mobile users without additional costs placed on them.

The ACIP digital health platform shows African governments the importance of having a more connected society. It shows the knowledge that can come from pooling together data from across the continent, relaying information found and using the data to inform decisions to best combat a health pandemic. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has pledged its full support of ACIP and is working alongside the World Health Organization in Africa to raise awareness about the importance of using online communication networks as a way to respond to a health crisis.

George Hashemi
Photo: Flickr