Posts

Zipline Drones

The California-based company Zipline, which designs and operates drone delivery networks, will start delivering medical tools and vaccines via drones to Tanzanian clinics in 2018.

The East African country has 0.03 doctors per 1,000 people and 5,640 public health facilities for a population of over 56 million. Blood transfusions and treatments for deadly diseases like HIV are hard to come by. In 2014, the CEO of Zipline drones, Keller Rinaudo, noticed this harsh reality as he browsed a database of health emergencies. The database would collect real-time data about patients who were suffering in different regions of the country, but people would not receive aid based on this information. Rinaudo, as he states in an interview with NPR, imagined “the other half of that system — where you know a patient is having a medical emergency and can immediately send the product needed to save that person’s life.”

The ‘other half of this system’ will start in January 2018, as per a statement from the Tanzanian government. Drones will be used for on-demand delivery of vaccines, blood transfusion materials and other medication or medical tools.

A drone medical delivery system is already up and running in Rwanda, with overwhelmingly positive results and stories. Tanzania hopes for an even larger system, where 120 drones will make 2,000 deliveries a day from four distribution centers spread across the country.

Zipline has hired locals to operate both the drones and distribution centers. When a hospital or clinic requests an item, a worker will stock the products into a shoebox-like container and pack the drone, which would zip to the hospital and deliver the products by parachute. This process takes what could be an eight-hour process and cuts it down to under a half hour.

The medical future is bright for rural and impoverished communities like those in Tanzania with the help of drones. Studies have found that blood samples and lab results were safely transported between medical facilities without any change in result, except for the time they took to be transported.

Rinaudo sees the system as a win not only for his Zipline drones company, Rwanda, or Tanzania, but for medical communities across the globe. In the same interview with NPR, he says that operation teams are “phenomenally smart, ambitious and driven. They work 12 hours a day, seven days a week. They will do anything to save human lives…Rwanda showed what’s possible when you make a national commitment to expand healthcare access with drones.”

Gabriella Paez

Photo: Flickr

AIDS Today: Where Has the Aid Gone for AIDS?
How dangerous is AIDS today?

While many wealthy nations have found ways to manage HIV, neither it nor AIDS had yet been eradicated.

Since the epidemic began in 1981, over 70 million people have been infected with the HIV virus, and upward of 35 million have succumbed to AIDS.

In 2015 alone, 1.1 million people died of AIDS or of an AIDS-related illness. Sub-Saharan Africa houses a majority of the AIDS infected population. One in every 25 adults is infected with the disease.

Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for nearly 70 percent of the worldwide infected population, while the other 30 percent are dispersed primarily throughout Western and Central Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Despite these substantial numbers, investments in HIV prevention research have decreased. Many donors were met with a slew of competing funding demands. Others no longer see the retrovirus as posing a current threat. Much of the world views HIV and AIDS as medical relics — diseases of a time long gone. Yet every day nearly 5,753 people are infected with HIV. That is about 240 people every hour.

HIV is transmitted from person-to-person through unprotected sexual intercourse, transmission of contaminated blood and from mother to child during birth or through breastfeeding. There is no cure for HIV, but the virus can be treated to almost a complete halt with antiretroviral therapy.

However, marginalized groups of people are not granted access to this therapy. As of December 2015, more than 60 percent of people living with HIV did not have access to antiretroviral therapy.

For the first time since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, scientists believe we are in reach of an entirely AIDS-free generation. Since 2000, the United Nation’s International Children’s Emergency Fund estimates that about 30 million new infections have been averted, eight million lives have been saved and 15 million people who would not otherwise have access are now receiving treatment.

The International AIDS Conference is a biennial meeting held for people working in fields actively related to the prevention of HIV. This year, nearly 18,000 delegates and 1,000 journalists showed up. Many of those in attendance were policymakers, people living with the disease and others committed to putting a stop to the epidemic. This year’s theme was “Access Equity Right Now.” It focused primarily on the ways in which the world can refocus global efforts on HIV/AIDS today and hopefully making treatment readily available to everyone.

But why should we stop there? With access to birth control and prenatal care, better sex education and sterile medical equipment, it is conceivable that we could live in a world that is entirely HIV-free — a world where AIDS really is history.

Kayla Provencher

Photo: Flickr

India's Largest Public Health CampaignIn 2014, the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare paired with the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases to create a communication campaign aimed at the prevention of Lymphatic Filariasis.

The video for India’s largest public health campaign by the Mass Drug Administration to eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis (LF) begins with a trail of oversized footprints attracting a group of curious spectators. The growing crowd follows the giant tracks to find their owner and the intent investigation of the crowd captures the matched attention of viewers off-screen.

Lymphatic Filariasis, commonly known as elephantiasis, is a disfiguring and debilitating neglected tropical disease that puts three in five people in India at risk of infection. While prevention of the disease is fairly simple — a pill once every year — public participation in the government’s drug distribution programs was low.

In 2002, India set a goal to eliminate preventable diseases by 2015. Their current campaign plan began in 2004. Although the Filaria has not yet been eliminated in India, significant progress has been made since India’s largest public health campaign began.

The video leads the villagers to a man with LF, who stresses the ease of prevention and emphasizes that contracting the disease can happen to anyone. The narrative is largely positive with the patient himself acting as a champion for awareness and change. Distributed widely in ten different languages on television and online, the public service announcement reached over 300 million people.

The number of people reached by the MDA increased from 72 percent in 2004, to 89 percent in 2015. Subsequently, the microfilaria rate decreased from 1.2 percent in 2004 to 0.26 percent in 2015, according to India’s National Vector Borne Disease Control Program (NVBDCP).

As of May 2016, 72 districts (each with an approximate population of 164 million) completed the Transmission Assessment Survey for LF and were qualified to stop the MDA program, said the NVBDCP. India’s dedication and success in decreasing LF likely increased global attention on Lymphatic Filariasis and other neglected tropical diseases. On June 3, the World Health Organization reported that LF was eliminated in Sri Lanka and Maldives.

With the largest Mass Drug Administration in the world, the Indian government continues its efforts to eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis by distributing LF preventative medication to 460 million people in 17 Indian states.

Erica Rawles

Photo: Flickr

MenAfriVacOn Feb. 22, 2016, vaccine experts from all over the world convened in Ethiopia with leaders from the 26 African “meningitis belt” countries to celebrate the success achieved by MenAfriVac, a vaccine created for use in Africa.

The vaccine was developed specifically for Africa and targets meningococcal A meningitis, a bacterial infection of the thin lining surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis is a highly-feared disease due to its capacity to kill its host within hours. Survivors often experience permanent hearing loss, paralysis or even mental retardation.

“We have achieved something truly historic with MenAfriVac®—creating an affordable, effective, tailor-made vaccine for Africa,” said Steve Davis, president and CEO of PATH, a nonprofit global health organization.

According to PATH, more than 90 percent of meningitis epidemics in Africa attacked mostly infants, children and young adults. To zero in on this specific cause of meningitis, PATH partnered with the Meningitis Vaccine Project and the World Health Organization (WHO).

In the five years that MenAfriVac has been in effect, 235 million children and adults have been vaccinated. From 250,000 cases during an epidemic from 1996 to 1997, to only 80 confirmed cases in 2015, the vaccine has effectively protected millions of people.

However, a resurgence is possible within 15 years if an immunization program is not implemented permanently. Several countries applied for funding to begin implementing MenAfriVac into their national childhood immunization programs. Gavi, a global health partnership that focuses on vaccines, has spent $367 million campaigning and stockpiling the vaccine since 2008 to support these countries.

“Meningitis A was a scourge across Africa’s meningitis belt for generations but today we can be proud that a safe, effective meningitis vaccine is protecting hundreds of millions of people from death and disability,” said Dr. Seth Berkley, Gavi CEO. “But we must not be complacent. It is critical that at-risk countries begin introducing this vaccine into their routine schedules and ensuring every child is reached and protected.”

This achievement could not have been possible without the vital partnerships that contributed to the development of the vaccine. U.S. agencies financially supported MenAfriVac, provided technical expertise and participated in clinical studies of the vaccine.

Continued partnerships could lead to solutions for other diseases around the world and have a positive impact on global health.

Emily Ednoff

Sources: Gavi, PATH
Photo: Flickr

The Rise of 3D Printing in the Middle East and Africa 1The budget allocated for 3D printing in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) is reported to increase from $47 million to $1.3 billion over the 2015-2019 period, according to the Semiannual 3D Printing Guide published by the International Data Corporation (IDC). This guide is a framework that provides IT technicians with a focused perspective on where 3D printing expenditure should be heading over the next five years.

The growing use of 3D printing in MEA, as stated in an article by IT News for Africa on Feb.24, 2016, is predicted to have positive impacts on various fields including the manufacturing industry. According to IDC’s analysis, 3D printing enables products to be customized based on individual markets’ needs.

While the research firm expects to see Asia-Pacific as the major contributor to the implementation of this new technology, it indicates that “MEA will maintain its position as a frontrunner in this space, and its share of global 3D printing spend is expected to grow from 4.3 percent in 2014 to 5.0 percent by 2019.”

Martin Kuban, a senior research analyst with IDC Manufacturing Insights, further explained the versatility of the 3D printing technology, stating that apart from the straightforward applications within the automotive and aerospace industries, tech experts are anticipating “innovative and potentially transformative 3D printing deployments among medical suppliers, electronics manufacturers, and tools and components manufacturers.”

Recently, 3D printing in the Middle East and Africa has demonstrated its transformative powers. On Dec. 28, 2015, the BBC reported a groundbreaking initiative by the Institute of Digital Archaeology: A destroyed Syrian heritage site will be recreated from 2D images using a 3D printer.

The heritage site, a 2,000-year-old arch in the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria, was destroyed by the Islamic State group last summer. The Institute of Digital Archaeology, led by Harvard University, the University of Oxford and the Museum of the Future in Dubai will 3D-print replicas of this historic monument during UNESCO’s World Heritage Week in April of this year, as reported by the Washington Post in a Jan. 7, 2016 article.

The forthcoming recreation of the Arch of Palmyra, according to the Washington Post, belongs to a larger effort called the Million Image Database made possible by the Institute for Digital Archaeology and UNESCO. This collaboration aims to preserve and restore historical landmarks in the Middle East and Africa, as stated on the project’s website.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Alexy Karenowska, director of technology at the Institute for Digital Archaeology, said that the ultimate goal of the project is “to draw international attention to the global crisis surrounding the looting and destruction of cultural heritage objects and architecture.” Karenowska believes that it is important “to celebrate the beauty and significance of these objects to the everyday lives of modern people.”

This event demonstrates only one way in which the development of 3D printing in the Middle East and Africa can have a huge impact. Given increasing financial support, this advanced tool has the power to affect the economy, education, health, history and culture.

Hoa Nguyen

Sources: IDC-CEMA , IT News Africa, BBC, Digital Archaeology, Washington Post
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

nobel_prize_in_medicineFor the past 43 years, a lifesaving treatment for malaria, perfected by pharmacologist Tu YouYou, has received little recognition until winning the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine on Monday, Oct. 5. This long-known remedy has already demonstrated its efficacy through its use in southern Asia; however, the issue still remains as a staggering 90 percent of deaths caused by malaria occur in sub-Saharan Africa.

In 1967, Mao Zedong established a secret project dubbed “Project 523” in order to develop a cure for the widespread disease that disabled thousands of soldiers and civilians. Tu Youyou was selected to work on the cure after the group failed to create a synthetic medicine that proved effective.

Tu Youyou, then a student at the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences, began her search in 1969 for any herbal cure to the issue. She collected 2,000 possible remedies before cutting her list to 380 and testing her compounds on mice.

It wasn’t until 1972 that Tu Youyou successfully produced chemically pure artemisinin, which was then assessed by a group of scientists; despite their efforts, the artemisinin weakened as the chemists’ trials continued. After discovering a method in “Emergency Prescriptions to Keep Up One’s Sleeve,” an ancient text on Chinese medicine, Tu Youyou procured another solution that worked 100 percent of the time on primates and rodents.

Tu Youyou tested the medicine herself and human trials began; artemisinin treatments became the fastest-acting antimalarial medicine. Despite this, it wasn’t until 2011 that Tu Youyou’s discovery earned a Lasker prize as its first award.

Tu Youyou’s find has held promise for the eradication of malaria since its discovery, being rewarded with a Nobel Prize in Medicine on Oct. 5, 2015. New drug-resisting malaria vectors, however, have drastically altered the reception of antimalarial therapy across the world. A prominent example is that of sub-Saharan Africa.

The most recent number calculated by the WHO records that in 2013 there were an estimated 198 million cases of malaria worldwide. Malaria is the cause of about 450,000 deaths per year and 90 percent of these occur in sub-Saharan Africa, with 77 percent being children at the age of 5 and younger.

Despite the drug-resisting vectors, mortality rates have fallen 47 percent globally since 2000, with a drop of 54 percent in the WHO’s African region. The WHO also suggests halting production and marketing of artemisinin-based monotherapies until variations of the treatment are developed.

Although no specificity is provided on when other alternatives will be available, the WHO launched an emergency response in April 2013 with the hopes of containing and managing any known outbreaks, continuing today as the WHO emphasizes that “urgent actions now will deliver significant savings in the long run.” It has since received aid from the leaders of the East Asia Summit and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

For now, we must enjoy “[the] gift for the world’s people from traditional Chinese medicine,” Youyou said after winning the Lasker prize in 2011.

Emilio Rivera

Sources: CNN, Columbia, Vox, WHO                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
Photo: Flickr


Vaccination is one of the most successful and potent methods of combating viral and infectious diseases today. In fact, the most effective method of prevention against many potentially epidemic diseases is vaccination.

The administration of vaccines is largely through injection of the vaccine intravenously or intramuscularly. The process of vaccination involves introducing into the body an innocuous form of the infection- certain cellular products of the disease-causing microbe or virus that is not capable of reproducing or spreading. This stimulates the production of antibodies against the particular infection the vaccine is targeting.

As successful as vaccination is, the method of delivery of the vaccine that is a syringe can have notoriously harmful implications. The traditional syringe uses a needle that is injected into the body and therefore comes in contact with the patient’s blood. This contact with blood can be very dangerous if proper precautions are not taken, as blood serum can transfer many viral diseases, including HIV/AIDS.

The proper usage of medical syringes includes their proper sterilization before injecting a patient, which is done by the manufacturing companies. To ensure that the needle is completely free of any microbial or viral agents, the syringe needs to be used right after packaging is removed. Moreover, used syringes should never be used on another individual.

These precautions are vital to ensuring the safety of patients being vaccinated and is standard medical procedure. However, in many developing countries, syringes are reused on other patients, especially where effective regulation is lacking. Illegal businesses have been found guilty of taking used syringes, ineffectively sterilizing them and reselling them for use. This misuse of syringe needles leads to approximately 1 million deaths per year. It is also one of the leading causes of HIV/AIDS, with 10 percent of cases of HIV/AIDS in the United States being the consequence of intravenous drug use with unclean syringes.

One of the solutions to these problems is obviously to enforce tighter regulations, ensuring contaminated syringes are disposed of properly so accessibility to those is reduced. Hospitals can enforce stricter sterilization policies. However, these policies are not very likely to be effective, especially in poorer countries who may lack resources for enforcing these regulations. Moreover, limiting the access to used syringes for drug users can be particularly problematic.

Another solution to this problem is to eliminate the needles in syringes altogether. Recently, needle-free syringes have become popular alternatives for syringes. The needle-free syringe, as the name suggests, does not use a needle to inject the vaccine into the bloodstream. Instead, it uses a high-pressure gradient to force vaccine liquid into the tissue. The vaccine is forced at high pressure through the skin through an orifice of the syringe, which in modern syringes has been made as small as the diameter of a human hair. This method also distributes the medication or vaccine better through the tissue, as the medicine penetrates through the skin into the surrounding tissue. The syringe never comes into contact directly with blood, so the risk of contamination is reduced. Also, the syringe is not suited for substance abuse, as those drugs are administered intravenously.

The needle-free syringes have been quite successful in their delivery of vaccines as well as their safety of usage. Different types of needle-free syringes have been developed for administering different types of drugs with increased efficiency. These syringes are more expensive than ordinary syringes, however. With increasing demand and development, it is probable the needle-free syringes would become as desirable in their cost as they are in their technique.

Atifah Safi

Sources: Bioject, MIT, WHO
Photo: Path

Life_Saving_Dot
In India, 350 million people are at risk for iodine deficiency. Iodine deficiency leads to a variety of harmful conditions in adults, including hypothyroidism, goiter, an increased risk for breast cancer, and brain damage. In the unborn children of mothers with a deficiency, the condition results in a condition known as fetal hypothyroidism, improper conditioning of the gland in unborn children which can result in cognitive birth defects and even stillbirth.

So when Grey for Good, a charitable branch of the Singapore-based Grey Group, offered a solution to the problem, it needed to be innovative in combatting this very real public health risk. What they noticed is this: many Indian women wear a bindi, or a small red dot in the center of the forehead, for cultural or religious reasons. With this came an idea: is there a way to use the cultural trend to combat the condition?

Grey for Good teamed up with Indian NGO Neelvasant Medical Foundation and Research Center to begin distributing affordable bindis which double as iodine supplements. Called Life Saving Dot, or Jeevan Bindi, the back of each bindi is coated in iodine, creating a “patch” which can deliver up to 150 micrograms of iodine through the skin over the course of eight hours, which is the recommended amount of iodine for women.

Life Saving Dot is also affordable. A pack of 30 bindis is sold for 10 rupees, or just 16 cents. Perhaps this is why the bindis have reached over 300,000 women in 100 villages that the Indian government has deemed at risk for iodine deficiency.

In distributing Life Saving Dot, Grey for Good has taken an innovative approach to solve a problem, uniting medicine, technology, business and culture as a force for good. By bringing these things together, they have created a truly modern solution to the problem of iodine deficiency.

Andrew Michaels

Sources: Take Part, NPR, UpWorthy, Global Healing Center
Photo: Life Saving Dot/Facebook

Potential to Cure Parkinson’s Disease Found in Existing Drug

In a recent report, researchers found that the current drugs Chloroquine and Amodiaquine, two common anti-malaria drugs, could also provide treatment for Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease itself is a disease caused by a loss of cells in a part of the brain called the subtantia nigra. This loss of cells causes the reduction of the neurotransmitter called dopamine, or the chemical in the brain that regulates movement and mood.

One of the study’s authors, Dr. Yoon Ho Sup, stated, “Our discovery brings hope for the millions of people suffering from Parkinson’s disease, as the drugs that we have found to have worked in the laboratory tests have already been used to treat malaria in patients for decades.”

Dr. Sup continued, “Our research also shows that existing drugs can be repurposed to treat other diseases and once several potential drugs are found, we can redesign them to be more effective in combating their targeted diseases while reducing the side effects.”

This monumental breakthrough could lead to an inexpensive alternative treatment to many individuals who suffer from Parkinson’s on a daily basis. Creating the new treatment would be beneficial not only from a financial standpoint but also because many of the current treatments involve a varied concoction of many drugs and surgery.

Another of the study’s authors, Professor Kwang-Soo Kim stated, “…[existing] pharmacological and surgical treatments address the patient’s symptoms, such as to improve mobility functions in the early stages of the disease, but the treatments cannot slow down or stop the disease process.”

With the current research and backing of scientific evidence, these drugs are seen to be a potential drug target to treat Parkinson’s itself.

The researchers hope that the drugs can be further modified to continue to better treat Parkinson’s and hopefully slow and stop the process.

Alysha Biemolt

Sources: Spring, WHO, PNAS
Photo: Medical Press

New Ebola Vaccine Kills Virus in MonkeysA recent study published by the Journal of Clinical Investigation has reported that a new prototype aerosol Ebola vaccine was found to successfully neutralize the deadly virus within monkeys during clinical test trials.

The study, led by Dr. Michelle Myer and conducted collaboratively by the National Institutes of Health and the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, determined that the experimental vaccine activated immune cells within the respiratory system that subsequently provided full protection against the virus. The study also notes that this is the first time researchers have attempted to use an aerosol vaccine within monkeys to fight a hemorrhagic viral fever such as Ebola.

Co-author of the study Dr. Alexander Bukreyev, a medical virologist from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, recently stated, “This is one of the few vaccines that works. The initial several decades of attempts to develop a vaccine against the Ebola virus were unsuccessful.”

Vaccination researchers within the medical community have become familiar with the notion of failure, as an experimental drug designed to treat Ebola patients proved ineffective in fighting the virus. The experimental drug, known as TKM-Ebola-Guinea, was designed by Tekmira Pharmaceuticals and reportedly was, “Not likely to demonstrate an overall therapeutic benefit,” for patients infected with Ebola.

The drug was designed to utilize RNA interference, a process in which the functions of certain genes within the Ebola virus are disrupted and subsequently renders the virus incapable of attacking human cells. Prior to the failure of the trials within human subjects, many researchers considered the experiment the single most promising lead in the race to stop Ebola, as the drug had proved effective in stopping the virus in monkeys during clinical test trials

Since the unprecedented outbreak of the disease in West Africa last year, the virus is estimated to have killed over 11,000 people and infected an additional 27,000 people in the nations of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, according to the World Health Organization.

As the aerosol vaccine does not require the assistance of trained medical professionals, the distribution of the vaccine within developing regions that lack adequate health infrastructures and large personnel staffing will prove to be notably less challenging. Dr. Igor Lukashevich, a medical virologist from the University of Louisville, recently argued that “This aerosolized form of the vaccine is really what the field needs right now. The discussion […] right now is if this Ebola outbreak will be some kind of game-changer for vaccine development, or will it only be one more scare that will be forgotten.”

Dr. Meyer explained in a recent interview that human cells “in the lungs are acting as the first barrier for protection. That’s ideal to combat the virus at the site of the infection.”

Four of the monkeys used for the study were given a single dose of the vaccine, while an additional four were given two doses of the vaccine. Two other monkeys were given a liquid form of the vaccine, while two more monkeys were not vaccinated in order to serve as controlled variables for the study. Four weeks after the administration of the vaccines, all 12 of the monkeys were administered 1,000 times the fatal dose of the Ebola virus.

Two weeks after the injection of the Ebola virus into the test monkeys, all of the vaccinated monkeys had remained healthy while the two unvaccinated monkeys became infected with the disease and were euthanized.

Dr. Daniel Bausch, a medical virologist of Tulane University, noted that the study was “a positive step forward,” but cautioned that “it’s not a breakthrough or ‘Eureka!’”

The success of the aerosol vaccine during the clinical trials on the monkeys indicates the next step will now be for testing to begin on humans in the coming months.

James Thornton

Sources: New York Times 1, New York Times 2, MB
Photo: Red Orbit