Torch Tiles

University of Southern California (USC) has a course called “Innovation In Engineering and Design for Global Crises.” As part of the class, a team of USC undergraduates visited the Moria refugee camp to learn from and engage with the displaced peoples about their experiences. The need for more livable housing was the impetus for students’ project development. The result was Torch Tile — an adaptable, low-cost, user-friendly solution to the sheltering challenges of the displaced peoples in Moria.

Living Conditions of the Sprawling Moria Refugee Camp

On the eastern coast of the Greek island of Lesvos, is the Moria refugee camp. Moria is the largest refugee camp in Europe. It is the landing pad for the daily stream of refugees fleeing from Afghanistan, Syria and Turkey via a harrowing boat trip across a six-mile stretch of the Mediterranean Sea. The camp was originally designed to shelter 3,000 people. Currently, it is overflowing with over 13,000 refugees.

Tents sprawling the foothills surrounding Moria have constituted as impermanent shelters or “homes” for these refugees. Some asylum-seekers have even established residence with flowers, hand-made tandoori ovens and power cords for hijacking electricity. Despite these additions, the tents are no match for the temperature swings of Greece’s climate. In the summers, heat waves can break 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Winters on the island bring lasting snow from the sea moisture. Asylum-seekers can expect to wait a year before their asylum applications are processed ensuring they will experience both extreme weather conditions.

In the past, asylum-seekers have employed cardboard and tarps in an attempt to block out the extreme cold and heat. Increasing the temperature a few degrees led to refugees living in environments with dank, humid air that condenses on the tent inner walls. Running water is only available inside of Moria, and these moist environments put asylum-seekers at risk for health complications. Many suffer from pneumonia and heat stroke, which there are limited resources with which to treat.

In stepped the Torch Tile.

The Product

After over thirty different prototypes and dozens of hours of overnight testing, the team created the Torch Tile. The users’ needs were at the forefront of the creation’s design. The product comes in 36 or 55 sq. ft. sheets that can be laid side-by-side (like tiles) to fully surround a tent. The sturdy, lightweight and flexible material of the tiles is Aluminet.

The knitted screen-like material allows for airflow, reduces indoor humidity and lets light into the tent for visibility. Secured using zip ties and draped over the tent ceiling, the Torch Tile cools the interior by deflecting outdoor heat and light on warm days. Similarly, in winter weather one layers a tarp over the Torch Tile to warm the tent by 5-15 degrees by reflecting body heat inward.

Then, the team founded Torch Global Inc., a nonprofit currently fundraising to mass produce tiles for distribution. The goal is to provide tiles for those in Moria and for the unsheltered populations in Los Angeles.

Protecting Homes during the Coronavirus Pandemic

The distribution of Torch Tiles has been paramount to enabling people to self-isolate during the coronavirus pandemic. One Torch Tile user from Los Angeles shared, “I have COVID and can’t isolate because my tent is too hot. This product will keep my tent cooler, so I can actually stay inside and isolate.” Recently Torch Global Inc. fundraised $13,000 for the ordering of 1,500 more Torch Tiles — protection for 1,500 more people in their homes.

The collective, global mobilization and coordination of resources necessary to resolve the refugee crisis in Greece is unlikely to occur soon enough. Even when it is, situations and conflicts will likely displace more people in the future, and asylum-seekers living in tents will be inevitable. By thermo-regulating shelters, Torch Tiles alleviate one aspect of refugees’ vulnerability and address the downstream effects of displacement.

Tricia Lim Castro
Photo: Flickr

Biotechnology in UgandaBiotechnology’s recent rise has led many countries with abundant resources to further their healthcare services and agriculture. Embracing this innovation movement has led Uganda to improve its economic growth and the country’s development significantly. By doing so, Uganda progresses to have an edge in growing a bio-resource economy due to the country’s rich resources. The constant advancement of biotechnology in Uganda has led to improved farming, toxic waste management and medical diagnostics and treatments. Continued improvement depends on the governmental support to the science and technology field.

About Uganda’s Biotechnology

While this form of technology covers a wide range of live organism manipulation, biotechnology in Uganda solely deals with technology associated with transgenic organisms and recombinant DNA alteration. This form of modern scientific technology became prominent in 1993. This was when the Ugandan Department of Animal Science and Faculty of Agriculture at Makerere University proposed using the transgenically derived bovine somatotropin (BST) hormone for cattle growth and lactate production. Genetic engineering of agrobacteria produces the BST hormone and boosts the agriculture economy in return. However, due to the controversy over growth hormones at the time, the import of BST halted.

Two years later, biotechnology usage was necessary for Phase 1 trials of a potential HIV-1 vaccine (ALVAC vCP 205). It was the first HIV-1 preventative vaccine study in Uganda and Africa as a whole. This vaccine was a live recombinant canarypox vector expressing HIV-1 glycoproteins. Both the BST and HIV-1 vaccine proposals provided a basis for the foundation for the national biosafety guidelines. They led to the establishment of the National Biosafety Committee in 1996.

Research into biotechnology continues to pose an advantage for Uganda. Moving these transgenic products to the commercial market requires a full governmental understanding within the biotechnology innovation market.

Effects on Ugandan Healthcare and Agriculture

Over the years, Ugandan biotechnology has widely helped both the healthcare and agriculture industry. Laboratory projects regarding genetic resistance to pathogens, droughts and other disasters aid the crop growth throughout the nation. Ongoing research on animal vaccines such as East Coast Fever and Foot and Mouth Disease has facilitated the animal life expectancy. The study has also improved food production in Uganda.

Characterization of crop pathogens such as sweet potato feathery mottle virus through molecular markers has led to better disease prevention techniques. For example, east African Highland bananas are being genetically modified to resist banana bacterial wilt, weevils and overall improve the nutritional value of the plant. Established in 2007, these modified bananas have been able to confer resistance against the black Sigatoka disease.

Additionally, the crops’ genetic diversity multiplies more now than ever, prompting a path towards a more complicated and safe GMO industry. Bananas and pineapples are artificially bred using tissue culture techniques, providing more products annually. Agro-Genetic Technologies Ltd’s (AGT) coffee bean proliferation is also underway.

Regarding the health sector, pharmacokinetics and drug resistance techniques receive heavy study. Multi-drug and drug-resistant diseases widespread in Uganda, such as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria, are especially heavily studied. Clinical trials for DNA-based vaccines utilizing the recombinant adenovirus five vectors are also in progress.

Population Participation Increases

In the past few years, an average biotechnology worker in Uganda earned around 3,520,000 UGX per month. Biotechnology in Uganda has led to sufficient wages. However, this form of science has also increased the participation of different demographic groups, namely women. Women in the field have strongly encouraged the use of agricultural biotechnology.

Dr. Priya Namanya Bwesigye is the lead Ugandan banana researcher at the National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL) in Kawanda. She claims that African women are looking for new solutions. They are also looking into how they can use technology to give their people and themselves better and improved crop varieties to fight hunger and improve living quality. Bwesigye and her team use genetic engineering to make disease-resistant bananas and provide more nutrition. One of these modified bananas provides vitamin A as well. Her program provides farmers with these improved bananas and a foundation for the multiplication of said fruit with proper restraints.

For biotechnology in Uganda to take off, the population must be adequately educated about the effects of this form of science and its changes. Bwesigye, for one, explains agricultural biotechnology to farmers and why it is necessary. The Uganda Biosciences Information Center (UBIC) began training teachers in this modern form of science. This was done to popularize the technology in local communities. UBIC trained 27 teachers and 12 textbook authors after the education department mandated that the national curriculum in secondary schools integrated this new form of science. The National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) held a one-week training course. Participants visit field trials of genetically modified crops and other research laboratories. These trials and laboratories involved different aspects of agriculture and health.

The Biosafety Bill of Uganda

With the use of biotechnology rising, ethical problems have started to arise. To ease integrating this new form of technology into the mainstream market, the Ugandan government established the Biosafety Bill of Uganda. This bill’s mission is to provide a proper framework that enforces safe development and biotechnology in Uganda. Its mission is also to regulate research and the release of these GMOs into the public. The population was torn between the ethical controversy surrounding biotechnology. However, the bill was able to go into effect in 2018 after much deliberation.

Overall, Ugandan biotechnology has dramatically impacted the country, especially in its agriculture and the healthcare industry. As time progresses, biotechnology in Uganda has improved and heavily aids as an asset to the country.

Aditi Prasad
Photo: Flickr

cobots in developing countriesAutomation has often been discussed as the enemy of progress, taking jobs and resources away from low-skilled workers. However, recent reports suggest that cobots offer a compromise for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), particularly in the developing world. Though the effects of widespread use remain to be seen, the use of cobots in developing countries has already had positive effects, according to leading Danish robotics company Universal Robotics (UR).

What Are Cobots?

The first cobot (collaborative robot) was invented in 1996 by J. Edward Colgate and Michael Peshkin, both professors at Northwestern University. At the time, the invention was called a “programmable constraint machine.” Since then, human beings in companies across the world have been working alongside cobots, using the machines’ superior strength and accuracy to enhance processes from surgery to crop harvesting. Cobots differ from robots mainly in that they are not dangerous; they are much smaller and lighter and can work in close proximity to people. They are also not pre-programmed, and they can be trained to complete a process repetitively and even refine their abilities, improving as they go.

Cobots represent a growing industry worldwide, having generated $580.8 million in 2018. This growing industry, UR says, is expected to be worth over $9 billion by 2024. The industry is also relevant in developing nations such as Malaysia, where experts expect the use of cobots to increase.

Challenges to Manufacturing in Developing Nations

Emergent economies often struggle to match already-developed areas of the world in terms of productivity. Human labor alone cannot exceed the work done by human-cobot teams because of the advantages in strength and accuracy that cobots offer. Many poorer nations are not prepared to front the ever-increasing cost of feedstock, while also using devalued currencies to invest in technological solutions. On the other hand, they cannot afford to keep doing things the same way, says UR. Cobots offer crucial innovation that doesn’t empty the coffers.

From “Dull, Dirty, Dangerous and Dear” to Dynamic Careers

Popular culture often presents robots as adversaries; movies and books narrate universal fears of robots taking over human life and livelihood. But many of the jobs lost to automation, such as jobs in mining and sewage, fall into categories that are sometimes referred to using the four D’s: dirty, dangerous, dull (demeaning) and dear (expensive).”

Cobots can help reduce workplace injuries involving heavy and repetitive lifting, for example. And since cobots specifically require a human partner in order to be effective, using cobots does not necessarily result in the loss of a job. In fact, it could mean just the opposite: training people to operate cobots frees them from mundane tasks, making them more qualified, a phenomenon known as “upskilling.” This results in a more knowledgeable workforce whose lives are enriched by more fulfilling careers. In this way, cobots in developing countries can be part of the solution, not the problem.

Darrell Adams, the director of UR in Southeast Asia and Oceania, said of cobots: “Tomorrow’s workplaces will be run by highly skilled workers assisted by intelligent devices. Cobots help to automate and streamline repetitive and potentially unsafe processes, thus ensuring a safe work environment while increasing productivity and efficiency.”

The Successes of Cobots in Developing Countries

Cobots in developing countries have already had a degree of success. For example, in India, one automobile parts manufacturer, Craft and Technik Industries (CATI), saw the urgent need for more precision in its operations. A workforce deficit meant that manual work often resulted in errors and waste. However, after the addition of a UR cobot used to perform quality control, the company stopped experiencing these errors. At the same time, production jumped by 15-20%.

UR believes that cobots could offer up to a 30% boost in manufacturing output of SMEs in developing countries such as Malaysia. According to UR, as of 2020, most Malaysian companies automate less than half of their operations. This could be because industrial robots are simply too expensive for SMEs to afford.

Smaller, more practical cobots in developing countries make better financial and logistical sense because they are easy to put to immediate use, without causing invasive stoppages in production for installation. “With the assistance of cobots, local manufacturers can achieve higher levels of efficiency and rapid productivity gains,” said Adams.

According to UR, companies that have opted to automate their processes using cobots can slash production errors while boosting productivity by as much as 300%. For SMEs in the developing world, though, the most compelling evidence is in return on investment (ROI). Companies who have recently signed on to cobot technology can achieve ROI in about a year.

Automation and Policymaking

It is clear that developing nations will have to confront how to “upskill” workers in a way that accounts for socioeconomic differences and the gaps in access those differences can cause. In some countries such as Thailand, policymakers have already convened to form organizations dedicated to developing automation industries while equipping workers with the skills needed to keep up with those advances. But some economists are skeptical that this would be the norm in most countries, and propose a government-provided basic income for those who have lost employment. Whatever the case, with robots already here to stay, it seems clear that cobots in developing countries offer the happy medium that these countries need to compete in an increasingly automated world.

Andrea Kruger
Photo: Flickr

health sector communication
Communication is key when it comes to developing a well-performing healthcare system. Ineffective communication within healthcare systems “increases the likelihood of negative patient outcomes,” overall costs for healthcare systems, and “patient utilization of inpatient and emergency care.” Meanwhile, sound health sector communication ensures the maintenance of overall health and helps prevent diseases and premature death. Thus, it is important to ensure that healthcare systems across the globe are well equipped and supported. Recent developments in mobile technologies have made it easier to do so and transformed health-sector communication in several countries.

mHERO

A recently developed mobile application, called mHERO, has become one of the latest mobile applications to demonstrate the powerful and wide-reaching role that technology plays in health-sector communication. Created in 2014 by IntraHelath International and UNICEF, mHERO is a mobile-based application used by healthcare workers and ministries of health in order to communicate and coordinate effectively and efficiently. The application was developed during the 2014 Liberian Ebola outbreak after recognizing the need for a way to communicate urgent messages to frontline healthcare workers, to collect data concerning outbreaks development, and to provide support and training.

Messages sent through the application are transmitted through basic text or SMS. The app is compatible with most cellular devices. By merging existing health information systems, such as Integrated Human Resources Information System (iHRIS) and Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR), with popular communication platforms, such as RapidPro, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, mHERO acts as a cost-efficient, accessible and sustainable resource for many healthcare systems.

Implementation in Liberia 2014

The 2014 West African Ebola outbreak overwhelmed the Liberian healthcare sector. The absence of effective communication channels blocked the supply of vital information from health officials to health workers. UNICEF and IntraHealth International created mHERO to address the communication challenge. The application was initially designed to suit the needs of the Liberian healthcare system, utilizing the technology that was already available in the country. It then became the responsibility of the ministry of health to effectively manage and maintain the application’s implementation and its continued use.

Liberia utilized mHERO to validate healthcare facility data, to update health workers and to track which facilities need additional resources. Today, health officials use mHero to coordinate the country’s response to COVID-19. mHERO has become an integral part of the Liberian healthcare system, maintaining a vital role in health-sector communication.

Development and Reach

Guinea, Mali and Sierra Leone followed Liberia’s lead with the mHero integration process. The implementation guidelines and intent of use in these countries have generally remained the same as Liberia’s. Mali, however, has implemented the application with a need to train and develop the skills of healthcare workers.

Uganda, as of 2020, has also incorporated mHERO into its healthcare system with the intent of reducing the spread of COVID-19. The application has allowed for easier COVID-19-related communication between ministries of health, health officials and healthcare workers.

Uganda employes a developed form of the application with an extension called FamilyConnect. The extension sends “targeted lifecycle messages via SMS to pregnant mothers, new mothers, heads of household and caregivers about what they need to do to keep babies and mothers safe in the critical first 1,000 days of life” as long as they have been registered with the Ministry of Health’s Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health (RMNCAH). Mothers can register themselves or can choose to have registration done by a community health worker.

Future Plans

UNICEF and IntraHealth International want to expand access to mHERO. Counties in East and West Africa have indicated an interest in implementing the application. UNICEF and IntraHealth International intend to continue to support the ministries of health and healthcare systems in which mHERO has already been implemented. They also hope to find new ways to encourage ministries of health “to understand the interoperability of the technology, the processes for implementation and best practices to using mHero data.”

Overall, mHERO has substantially improved health-sector communication within several countries, proving the application’s potential for revolutionizing health-sector communication throughout the world. Developments can be made to expand the application’s capabilities and reach, as proven in Uganda. The application is a sustainable and cost-efficient resource for healthcare systems and helps reduce the chances of premature death along with the spread of diseases and misinformation. It provides crucial support to healthcare workers, especially during times of epidemics, increasing the overall quality of healthcare and life.

Stacy Moses
Photo: Flickr

Ghana Has Developed Its Technology to Produce Solutions
Over the last two decades, the Republic of Ghana has been the hub for technology production in sub-Saharan Africa. Ghana has developed its technology to produce solutions in its IT programs and sustainability training. One of the metropolitan cities in the Republic of Ghana, Accra, has always been the first to discover a new method or tool useful for technology and solutions. In the last 20 years, Ghana started with virtually no institutions for health, economy and environmental sustenance.

F.K.A. Allotey of the government of Ghana said that”We paid the price of not taking part in the Industrial Revolution…because we did not have the opportunity to see what was taking place in Europe. Now we see that information and communication technology has become an indispensable tool. This time we should not miss out on this technological revolution.” Here are seven ways Ghana has developed its technology to produce solutions.

7 Ways Ghana has Developed its Technology to Produce Solutions

  1. The Republic of Ghana has been making plans to promote economic growth for the last decade. Ghana has developed its technology to produce solutions due to a substantial lack of such in the last decade. It is shooting for a low to middle-income status in the upcoming decade. In order to accomplish this, the focus has shifted heavily on agriculture. Agriculture is the ticket to a sustainable living environment with food security, supplies and clothes, etc. The issues hindering productivity in Ghana have been farmland, economic conditions and infrastructure. This is due to the lack of fundamental training in land management and equipment. To combat this, widening the use of technology to make farming in Ghana easier should accelerate productivity. When technology makes things more convenient, people can accomplish more in one day.
  2. Productivity in Ghana is at a higher rate than its neighboring nations. Ghana uses 6% of its gross domestic product to pay for education, one of the highest percentages in the world. It is a participant in world trade. Gold, cocoa and oil are three of Ghana’s primary exports. This keeps profits high enough to continue to educate and train younger citizens to farm and harvest. For example, the GDP (gross domestic product) of the neighboring country Togo is less than Ghana. Meanwhile, 30% of the population in Togo lives below the poverty line (2,366,700 people). Ghana’s percentage of those below the poverty line is 23.4% (6,966,180 people).
  3. Ghana has made a shift to incentive-driven economic policies to improve leadership. In order to do this, smaller land rural farmers will now be able to identify their needs (crop production, improvements on harvest/post-harvest procedures and finding the value in their commodities). There will be more incentive to increase productivity when farmers feel that others are hearing and taking their needs into consideration. An NGO project by Obrobibini Peace Complex emerged to open sustainability training centers in Ghana, as being a regenerative nation is paramount. This project raised $18,194 out of its $20,000 goal. These training facilities should work to expand sustainability knowledge for marginalized Ghanaians. This project improved the health and livelihoods of the citizens in Ghana who are otherwise struggling with farming and equipment.
  4. In 2017, students at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology developed a solar-powered vehicle for transport called “aCar” to further explore the transportation needs of the country. Mostly, Ghananian farmers need transportation to and from the town markets (especially rural farmers) and also carry the goods that they need to sell. The aCar became a convenient way to transport goods and trade with other farmers at markets in town. The car is solar-powered, does not require fossil fuel and saves farmers money.
  5. In 2020, Accra is the hub for technological advancement and the future of the nation’s development. It is home to many tech firms and startup ideas. Accra acts as a host for pharmaceutical companies like “mPedigree” and “Rancard” that provide telecommunication services with other companies in the region. Setting up these telecommunication companies in the heart of Ghana’s metropolitan city has helped thousands of students growing up in Ghana find a path and way of learning. The median age in Ghana is 21 years old (5,230,050 people within the age range of 15-24). The future of Ghana is relying on young citizens to develop and further produce technological solutions to the prominent issues that currently lack such.
  6. Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) in Accra is providing complete IT training, funding for software startups and even mentorship for all students. Having more young people trained in IT is helpful for the progression of technology and productivity within the nation. These schools and programs give young Ghanaians inspiration, hope and prosperity for their future and that of the nation. Students originating from rural cities and towns are learning skills that they can use internationally or locally. They are learning environmental and technological problem-solving. Tech hubs like Impact Hub Accra, iSpace and MEST are working the minds of those who want to learn to develop their communities.
  7. After making executive decisions since 2000 to implement a plan to technologically develop and advance, there will always be room for further development and Ghana is reaching its peak. The introduction of the internet and wireless technology over the last 10 years has extended information to reach otherwise marginalized cities. Where the internet has yet to reach, radio broadcasting comes behind and reaches further into the rural corners of Ghana to keep people educated and informed.

Ghana has developed its technology to produce solutions and increasing more today than ever three years ago. The Ghanaians are young and flourishing constantly learning new things and adding programs to their hub for technological development to continue growing, developing and improving. In the next decade, Ghana hopes to become a self-sustaining, middle-class economy. In the next decade, technology improvements in Ghana will advance far beyond where they stand even now.

Kimberly Elsey
Photo: Flickr

Anti-Poverty in MongoliaTo combat corruption, officials in Ulaanbaatar have given power to citizens in an app. The app is for citizens to vote on public amenities like security cameras or new park spaces. Since Mongolia has seen a rapid boom in its economy, it is still attempting to understand the best ways to engage the public in community efforts. The Mongolian government has decided to use budget participatory measures to help promote anti-poverty. Decentralization is a large focus on the participatory budget so that decisions do not only occur in urban areas. Mongolia has a poverty rate of 28.4%, so it is imperative to work towards decreasing this number.

Public Participation in Mongolia

In 2013, the Mongolian government created a new law titled The Integrated Budget Law. This is the first law in Mongolia that works toward Mongolian residents’ participation in the Local Development Fund. The fund emerged to offer monetary assistance in urban centers and the more rural areas. The fund immediately provided relief by placing 280 street lights in various cities between 2013 and 2015. Despite this, the needs of Mongolian residents vary depending on where they are located. Urban centers long for more street lights while rural areas need more welfare to provide support for stagnating jobs.

The Asia Foundation and Anti-poverty in Mongolia

To gain public participation, the government has partnered with the nonprofit The Asia Foundation and a government organization called The Swiss Agency for Development. The Asia Foundation created an app to vote on public projects in 2014 and working with the Ulaanbaanter Municipal, mapped out entire districts and important amenities in a website called manaikhoroo.

The Asia Foundation is concerned with rural areas receiving the important services they need like job training and loans. The urban centers still have a majority of representation in government, but the focus is turning more towards local khoroos to find what they need the most. The efforts going toward anti-poverty include attempting to give more power to local communities. Another program connected to the participatory budget, named the Urban Governance Project, is working towards giving all residents a scorecard to identify what things they need the most. The government is attempting to provide equal representation for all khorros. The Asia Foundation also worked with another NGO named the GER Community Mapping Center to focus on the subdivisions of Ulaanbaatar, called khoroos, to share the Local Development Fund equally in all areas.

Mongolia has Replicated Brazil’s Anti-poverty Measure

The idea behind participatory budgeting began as an anti-poverty measure in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The Brazilian Worker’s Party introduced the participatory budget as a way to counteract the dictatorship in 1989. The struggle with participatory budgets is keeping the people interested in taking part in determining the budget. As with Porte Alegre, participation has passed through waves of interest and disinterest. The Asia Development fund estimated from a survey of 33 khoroos, only 18% knew about the Local Development Fund.

The app works better in Ulaanbaatar because 90% of people have internet connection in the city. It is more difficult to inform the nomadic people living in Mongolia. Since 40% of the people live in Nomadic tribes, it is difficult for the government to work towards mapping entire areas. Along with this, 60% of the nomadic population has settled into shantytown Gers around the central city of Ulaanbaatar because of drastic weather changes making it difficult to wander as they used to.

How Mongolia Can Improve its Anti-poverty Measures

Through updating the mapping of the Gers and informing the public, the government can provide funding to the areas that need it most. A lot of work is necessary to implement the voting system to all areas in Mongolia, but so far, 800,000 people in Ulaanbaatar have voted using the app. Despite this only accounting for half of the population, 54% of women voted by the app. The Asian Development Bank is working towards providing community meetings to explain to residents how they can involve themselves with the Local Development Fund.

Participatory budget is useful in aiding anti-poverty measures and other cities are picking up on using the same principles as Mongolia. In 2015, Paris introduced a new participation method geared towards citizens suggesting ideas that generated benefits for residents in local communities. Paris government officials partook in a social media campaign and garnered more than one million views on an online platform discussing the most popular ideas. Paris government officials held discussions in community meetings and people could suggest ideas offline as well.

The Mongolia model towards participation budgeting is still new, but as the model gains traction through advocacy and mapping, the government officials in Ulaanbaatar hope to spread the participatory budget system to other places in Mongolia to let residents know that they care about how their money is spent.

– Sarah Litchney
Photo: Pixabay

Improving Healthcare in Rural AreasWhether it’s a smartphone or a calculator, many people have technology right at their fingertips. With the world continuing to advance technologically, rural areas tend to be left behind. However, some technological advancements are benefitting rural areas in particular. Technological advancements in the medical world are saving lives and improving healthcare in rural areas.

5 Technologies Improving Healthcare in Rural Areas

  1. Virtual health services Virtual health services launch the list as one of the most popular, accessible healthcare advances. Prior to telehealth technology, all prescriptions were provided by a live pharmacist. Today, patients may communicate with their doctors and request prescriptions remotely. Live chat and video rooms provide healthcare for remote patients from the comfort of their homes. A recent survey found around 67% of U.S. adults are willing to try virtual healthcare; although, only around 20% have tried telehealth so far. It seems telehealth is here for good and here to stay.
  2. Virtual reality – Virtual reality is also improving healthcare in rural areas. Purdue University created augmented reality technology that may assist inexperienced doctors and surgeons. This newly emerging technology allows a more experienced medical professional to see the patient and lead the responder through the procedure. Preliminary trials show doctors in rural areas benefit from virtual reality technology. With fewer tools and materials to work with, feedback from a better trained professional can be critical. Juan Wachs, the leader of Purdue’s augmented reality research team, hopes that this new technology will decrease “the number of casualties while maximizing treatment at the point of injury.”
  3. 3D printing – Another healthcare advancement that benefits patients in remote locations is 3D printing. Before 3D printing became widespread, prosthetics would take weeks to make and could cost as much as $15,000. While the price of a prosthetic varies, 3D printing greatly reduces the cost. For example, biomechanics professor Dr. Jorge Zuniga from the University of Nebraska 3D printed a prosthetic hand for around $50. When 3D printing emerged, not only did prices decrease significantly, so did production time. A Canadian company called Nia Technologies predicts that a 3D printed model can be done in six hours. Therefore, 3D printing is particularly beneficial to patients in need of urgent care or with limited funds. As a result, advancements in prosthetic production benefit people in both rural and urban areas.
  4. Electronic medical records (EMRs)EMR is a networking system created by Sanford Health in South Dakota. EMR keeps track of patient and treatment data. This database helps establish a standard treatment for common medical conditions. Additionally, EMR reminds medical professionals to follow up with their patients. For example, if a nurse finds a patient has high blood pressure, EMR prompts the nurse to follow up with their patient, ensuring the patient checks in with their primary care provider. So far, Sanford Health’s EMR program has been implemented at 45 hospitals and over 300 small clinics; about two million individuals living in the Dakota areas are benefitting from the EMR platform. Technology like EMR may be used to increase efficiency and quality of treatment in other rural areas as well.
  5. Mobile Stroke Units (MSUs) Mobile stroke units also benefit patients in rural areas. An MSU is an ambulance-like vehicle that specializes in diagnosing and caring for patients who suffer from strokes. In places like rural Australia, MSUs are crucial for patients since strokes require urgent care. While 77% of urban patients have access to stroke units in hospitals or clinics, only 3% percent of rural patients have access. With the aid of Mobile Stroke Units, rural patients have a better chance of getting critical care in time.

Because rural areas are difficult to reach, healthcare is often less accessible. Travel costs are a barrier to healthcare, particularly for people in poverty. However, innovative technological advancements like these continue to improve the quality, cost, and accessibility of healthcare in rural areas.

Karina Wong
Photo: Flickr

Plant Powered Lamps Light Up Peruvian VillagesPeru is a developing country in Latin America. It has one of the region’s best economies with a 50% growth in per capita income in a decade. Despite the country’s growing success, there is a considerable gap in electricity access between rural and urban parts of the city. Only about 62% of people in rural areas have access to electricity. Fortunately, a group of students and professors from a Peruvian university are developing a solution to combat the issue. The plantalámpara is a lamp powered solely by plants that will light up Peruvian villages.

How Did the Idea Come About?

A hurricane occurred in the Amazon rainforest area of Peru that left 173 inhabitants of the Nuevo Saposoa region without electricity. Also, about 42% of the rural population did not have electricity at all. The Nuevo Saposoa village is remote and isolated from nearby cities. It is a five-hour boat ride from the nearest town, so the village could not receive reliable access to electricity after floods from the hurricane destroyed power lines.

Consequently, the inhabitants could not perform daily tasks after sunset, like studying and cooking. A professor and group of students at the UTEC University in Lima developed the plantalámpara to solve the issue of the lack of electricity. The plantalámpara lights up Peruvian villages. The developers encourage people to get back to their normal lives.

The plantalámpara is made in a box filled with a grid of electrodes and a plant growing inside. Photosynthesis, or the capturing of sunlight energy by plants, powers the box. When the plant goes through photosynthesis, its waste decomposes in the soul and produces electrons. As a result, the lamp captures those electrons and converts the energy into battery power. It can light up a 50-watt bulb for up to two hours.

Benefits of the Plantalámpara

The lamp provides clean and sustainable energy to forest villages without using gas, oil, or dirty fossil fuels. The plant-based light is entirely pollution-free. Additionally, plants offer 100% renewable energy at a low cost. According to a lead professor of the project, any plant can be used for the lamp, though some work better than others. The plantalámpara protects the beautiful rainforest, lights up Peruvian villages, and provides the Nuevo Saposoa community with more opportunities and a better quality of life.

It also gives Peruvian residents the possibility to work on schoolwork and other tasks past sunset. UTEC intended to put the digital community in the shoes (or eyes) of a forest dweller to understand how a lack of light can affect daily actions. The team originally provided 10 of the lamp prototypes to Nuevo Saposoa. The hope is that these lamps will eventually replace gas and oil lamps.

The plantalámpara serves as a crucial part of reducing the gap between rural and urban areas of Peru. Its amazing eco-friendly technology helps to light up Peruvian villages while not harming the environment at the same time. With this invention and more, Peru will continue to grow and expand, as more opportunities become available to all.

Shveta Shah
Photo: Flickr

Satellite Technology Can Help Combat Poverty
Over the last two decades, there has been an observed decrease in poverty levels in the eastern and southeastern regions of Asia. Unfortunately, 42% of people in sub-Saharan Africa are still living in absolute poverty conditions. To aid developmental efforts on the continent, scientists and engineers are exploring how satellite technology can combat poverty across the entire continent.

Identifying Poverty 

It is well-known in the academic community that research relating to poverty in comparatively poor regions is hard to come by. Surveys and censuses are not frequent enough to provide an accurate understanding of poverty in Africa. This lack of data makes strategizing and taking action to alleviate poverty in some areas particularly difficult. Luckily, some are conducting new research to explore the possibility of using satellite imagery to identify poverty-stricken areas. In fact, Stanford researchers Marshall Burke, David Lobell and Stefano Ermon spent the last 5 years studying the use of available images to assess poverty conditions in Africa over time.

Satellite imagery and machine learning can work together to identify poverty and development hot-spots. Images that satellites take during the night could expose the absence of lights in an area that may lack electricity. Images from the day may also show the status of general infrastructures like housing, waterways, agricultural techniques and roads. These features are components of development and identifying their status should be able to help efforts to provide communities with the resources they lack. Neural networks, which are a component of machine learning, use these satellite images to find patterns in communities. The Stanford researchers tested this technology on 20,000 different African villages and created models for the conditions they observed. While machine learning is a new tool for the fight against poverty, it is a promising source of information and understanding that can enhance our response. 

Famine and Natural Disasters

In its response to conditions in Africa, USAID has long known that satellite technology can help combat poverty. In 1986, NASA began working with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to detect and prevent famine through the famine early warning system (FEWS). Using remote sensing and existing satellite data that NASA collected, USAID has been able to predict famine conditions in sub-Saharan Africa. 

In 2000, NASA and USGS also collaborated to establish more effective response-planning mechanisms through an updated FEWS Network. They have used this network to predict floods, landslides, fires and other natural threats to development. In 2017, the network was able to make a credible appeal for food aid in a war-torn Somalia, which reduced deaths from starvation. Researchers have also concluded that the early warning system lowered mortality rates in Kenya, where the number of “severely hungry” Kenyans was 1.75 million in 2017, versus 2.8 million in 2011. Good disaster response can better inform developmental projects in poorer countries, which makes the network a crucial component of a greater effort to alleviate poverty. 

The Long-term

Many are now looking at how satellite technology can combat poverty. The technology can no doubt open more doors to understanding economic development. Experts suggest that satellite intel on land usage could aid non-governmental organizations in crafting policies for better resource allocation in the region and the possibilities do not stop there. Although there is still work to do to alleviate poverty in Africa, viewing this advancing technology as an enabler for further research and action is incredibly exciting.

Arshita Sandhiparthi
Photo: Flickr

5 New Technologies in Latin AmericaSilicon Valley may be the world’s tech Mecca, but technological innovation isn’t restricted to the San Francisco Bay. Latin America is in the midst of a technological revolution. Nations like Argentina, Columbia and Mexico are continuing to invest in IT infrastructure and modernize STEM education standards. Latin American nations now rank higher than China and India in English fluency, making the region an appealing prospect for outsourcing IT services. Latin governments recognize the economic potential in new technology: Argentina’s Program AR ensures public school students learn to program while Columbia’s Plan Vive Digital finances 80 percent of tuition and fees for IT students. Those investments are paying dividends. Here are five new technologies in Latin America.

5 New Technologies in Latin America

  1. Clic Educa (Chile): Clic Educa is a modular e-learning platform developed in Chile. The program measures students’ emotional states and behavioral patterns and provides instructors with customized feedback. Teachers can modify Clic Educa’s curriculum and learning materials to best suit their needs. They can even design lesson plans for students with learning disabilities or other conditions.
  2. Emiti (Mexico): Emiti is a startup headquartered in Guadalajara, Mexico. It created a health-monitoring smartwatch for eldercare purposes. The watch includes an emergency button, and it automatically detects if the wearer is undergoing a medical emergency. Sudden falls and cardiac irregularities are among the conditions the device will detect.
  3. Biofase (Mexico): Environmental sustainability is a hot topic in the current zeitgeist. Chemical engineer Scott Munguia founded Mexico’s Biofase in 2014. It is a bioplastics firm that converts avocado seeds and synthetic organic compounds into plastic goods. Biofase uses only inedible food waste to manufacture its products. Its bioplastic degrades naturally, so the company’s operations do not contribute to food shortages or greenhouse gas emissions via waste incineration.
  4. Emi Labs (Argentina): Artificial intelligence and machine learning are transforming business and technology worldwide, and Argentina is no exception. Emi Labs utilizes a virtual AI assistant to automate rote tasks necessary to HR operations such as screening resumes and scheduling interviews.
  5. La Casa Uruguaya (Uruguay): La Casa Uruguaya is an environmentally friendly construction project aiming to revolutionize the housing market by designing sustainable smart homes. These energy-efficient houses use solar energy, recycle water and employ a sensor network to regulate temperatures and lighting. La Casa Uruguaya’s homes are surprisingly affordable. They range in price from $50,000 to $90,000 and are installable in just 15 days.

These five new technologies in Latin America are but a few examples of the region’s ongoing tech boom. Latin America’s rapidly growing middle class offers entrepreneurs a consumer base for their products. Digital transformation is well underway. Internet penetration rests at 57 percent, but 70 percent of citizens subscribe to mobile plans. On average, Latin Americans log on to the internet for longer lengths of time than anyone else in the world. The next Silicon Valley may well rest south of the border.

– Dan Zamarelli
Photo: Newsroom