New Tool Detects Lung Disease in Developing Countries

Lung Disease in Developing Countries
A high-school senior recently developed a low-cost device to monitor lung function and improve the fight against lung disease in developing countries.

The device — called a spirometer — was unveiled by Maya Varma at the 75th Annual Intel Competition. She built the device using approximately $35 worth of common electronic parts. A similar, hospital-grade spirometer can run into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars, yet Varma’s prototype has been proven to be just as accurate.

To use the spirometer, patients blow into a mouthpiece while a smartphone app, also developed by Varma, analyzes the results. Doctors can use this data to monitor various chronic pulmonary conditions, such as asthma. Varma has already applied for a patent and has plans to conduct further research and testing before hopefully bringing it to market.

The high school senior was inspired to build the device after discovering the difficulties people in developing countries have in obtaining proper health care. According to Doctors Without Borders, one-third of the global population lacks access to proper medical care. In less developed areas, such as parts of Africa and Asia, that figure rises to one-half.

This stems in part from the fact that some medications are too expensive or no longer produced. Diagnostic tools are also rare in developing countries due to their high price tag. This prevents doctors from properly identifying certain diseases and patients from receiving the necessary care.

There is a serious need for more affordable tools to detect lung disease in developing countries. According to the Smithsonian, the high cost of spirometers, in particular, is a key factor in the high number of deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): because doctors lack the equipment to make early detection possible, it ranks as the fourth leading cause of death around the world.

Thankfully, as Varma works to perfect her device, a study out of Stanford University has shown that foreign aid is directly linked to increases in life expectancy and better health in developing countries.

In countries that received the most aid, life expectancy rose by as much as four years. According to the researchers, the more dramatic increases occurred when health aid was used effectively by targeting diseases with improved technologies that allowed for better, more efficient treatment — technologies such as new vaccines, bed nets and antiretrovirals.

Or, perhaps one day soon, Varma’s spirometers.

Sabrina Santos

Photo: Flickr