ClassroomThe Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality (CPI), a nonpartisan research center, is monitoring trends in poverty and inequality, developing policy and explaining the root causes of poverty. This education begins in the classroom and finishes in the field, such as rural villages in Africa. The Center supports research students and established scholars in the field. All research is published in CPI’s magazine Pathways, which will likely become the new fact-based journal on poverty, inequality, income, discrimination and more.

Since CPI’s beginning in 2006, the Center has received support from the US Department of Health and Human Services, Stanford University, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, Pew Charitable Trusts and others. This type of intellectual approach and curiosity might be the next step needed for a meaningful change in poverty reduction.

Ending Poverty with Technology is just one of many courses within the Center. Stanford students have the opportunity to pick an issue and use the semester to determine how they would better the situation. Sarukkai, a Stanford student majoring in symbolic systems stated, “In the land of opportunity it only makes sense that every human being has access to the same resources and pathways to success—an ideal we are far from achieving.”

As an undergraduate capstone project, one CPI team proposed a web platform and mobile app called “CareSwap.” This app is designed to help low-income families trade childcare within their respected network of friends and family. Although the course has ended, the “CareSwap” team plans to continue to develop and execute their website and app. The ending of a course does not mean the work ends.

The course is simply a place where the inspiration begins—the work ethic and dreams of the Center’s students cannot be diminished by the end of a semester. Poverty reduction begins in the classroom, but is carried out during the long hours of the student’s personal time.

“Our idea evolved so much in the last few months after our interviews and conversations with parents and childcare experts,” the students said. “We are excited to develop it further next year. This project has become far more than a class assignment for each of us.” An idea that began in the classroom later developed into an app and website, making thousands of children’s lives easier and safer.

Some of the proposed projects may even be adopted for further development by the Stanford Poverty & Technology Lab, an initiative dedicated to developing technology-based solutions to rising inequality in the United States. Currently, the lab is developing an app, under Bill Behrman, director of the Stanford Data Lab, for “mapping” poverty in California. The app has the potential to help government agencies and nonprofits better target certain demographics by delivering estimates of poverty, unemployment, income and other indicators for very small geographic areas of the state.

Innovative and creative thinking are both necessary to tackle any complex topic, particularly poverty. In the classroom, both attributes are present, as well as the ability to look at the situation from various perspectives. The communal feel and global mindset of Stanford is felt in every classroom of the Center on Poverty and Inequality. “It’s not about a professor teaching and the students learning,” one student said. “We’re all just part of the same team trying to build products that work to reduce poverty.”

Reducing poverty encompasses so many different aspects of society. However, like anything truly successful it should begin in the classroom. Poverty reduction can better the quality and longevity for millions of people worldwide, as academics and students studying to better the world—it only makes sense to tackle poverty from inside the classroom through innovation and creative thinking.

Danielle Preskitt
Photo: Flickr

Toy Inspires Low-Cost Lab Aid to Detect Malaria
Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. In 2015 alone, there were 212 million cases of malaria and 429 thousand deaths. Suffice it to say that malaria is a global health problem.

Even worse is that Sub-Saharan Africa continues to carry a disproportionately high share of the global malaria burden. In 2015, the region was home to 90 percent of malaria cases and 92 percent of malaria deaths.

The good thing is that malaria is preventable and curable, given the proper tools to do so. A device called a centrifuge that spins a blood sample very quickly and separates different cells can detect malaria. Centrifuges, though, are expensive, bulky and require electricity – which makes it inefficient in regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa.

A low-cost lab aid to detect malaria is in dire demand, which is exactly what Manu Prakash, a professor of bioengineering at Stanford University, realized on a trip to Uganda. On his trip, Prakash says he found centrifuges used as doorstops because there was no electricity.

Back in California, Prakash experimented with spinning toys in his search for a model for a low-cost lab aid to detect malaria. Though toys are not the conventional approach to developing a lab aid, Prakesh argues that toys hide profound physical phenomena we take for granted.

After experimenting with several spinning toys, including a yo-yo, they stumbled upon the children’s toy known as the whirligig or buzzer. The toy is made of a disk that spins when the strings that go through it are pulled.

This new low-cost lab aid to detect malaria dubbed the paperfuse, can separate pure plasma from whole blood in less than 1.5 minutes, and isolate malaria parasites in 15 minutes. The paperfuse has an ultra-low-cost of fewer than 20 cents, weighs only two grams and is, therefore, field-portable. The paper fuse could be the tool that helps detect and end malaria in low-income countries in the near future.

Mayan Derhy

Photo: Flickr

solar-powered water purifier
Recently, scientists at Stanford University and the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have developed a tiny, solar-powered water purifier resembling a rectangular bit of black glass. The new device does not have a name yet, but is being referred to as a “tablet.”

Access to safe drinking water is a problem for 663 million people in the world. The World Health Organization reports that unsafe water supplies, sanitation and hygiene are responsible for 842,000 deaths every year, 361,000 of which are children under the age of 5.

What sets this device apart from other water purifying gadgets on the market is its use of a wider range of light. According to the Global Citizen Organization, the device absorbs 50 percent of incoming sunlight energy, while other purifiers only absorb 4 percent.

According to project leader Chong Liu, “This can greatly enhance the speed of water disinfection. It does not need any additional energy or effort for treating water.” In an experiment, the tablet took only 20 minutes to function. In contrast, other purifying systems that use only UV rays can take up to almost 48 hours.

On the surface of the tablet is a layer of nanoflakes and a small amount of copper. The nanoflakes’ exposure to sunlight and water excites electrons in the device and results in the release of hydrogen peroxide. This chemical kills bacteria in the water, making it safe to drink. As of now, however, the tablet is only capable of killing E. coli and lactic acid bacteria.

In an experiment published in the Nature Nanotechnology journal, researchers placed the solar-powered water purifier in a container with 25 milliliters of water for 20 minutes. It killed 99.99 percent of the bacteria in the water, an impressive amount for such a short amount of time. Even Liu said, “We didn’t expect it to work that well at first.”

Since the device is new and not ready for the market yet, it has no fixed price. But according to Liu, “The material itself is cheap and the synthesis process is facile. So we assume that the device would be of low-cost.”

More experiments and field tests must be done before the tablet can be distributed. Nonetheless, this solar-powered water purifier has the potential to cheaply and quickly help people who struggle to obtain clean drinking water.

Karla Umanzor

Photo: Flickr

Poverty Mapping with the Help of Artificial Intelligence
Poverty mapping has proven to be a difficult task in past years. Poor countries are often reluctant to account for poverty due to corruption or the inability to do so because of ongoing conflicts. The World Bank reports that only 20 African countries conducted two or more population surveys on poverty from 2000 to 2010.

A new study from Stanford University hopes to improve poverty mapping by combining high-resolution satellite imagery with artificial intelligence.

According to a feature article published by online tech magazine Motherboard, Neal Jean, a Ph.D. engineering student at Stanford, has designed a machine learning algorithm that can predict poverty in Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Using satellite imagery to determine “nightlights” and levels of economic activity as a method of poverty mapping is nothing new. What’s different about the algorithm designed by Jean and his team is that it looks at daylight images of infrastructure, such as roads and metropolitan areas, which it then uses to identify nighttime patterns.

“Our basic approach involved a machine learning technique called ‘transfer learning,’ which is the idea that you can solve a hard problem – in our case, predicting poverty from satellite images – by trying to solve an easier one,” Jean said.

According to Motherboard, the algorithm may prove to be a very effective method of poverty mapping, especially given the cost of traditional household surveys and the lack of viable alternatives. Another advantage of the machine learning model is its transparency, as it doesn’t rely on private or protected information.

Jean told Motherboard that he hopes to make the technology open-source and cooperate with NGOs to put the algorithm to use. “If we could provide them with high-resolution poverty maps, they could overlay them on regions where operations already exist, and ultimately inform where they distribute funding,” he argued.

Jean’s machine learning algorithm is not the only artificial intelligence tool that is providing better data for poverty alleviation efforts. South African computer scientist Muthoni Masinde developed a solution that can forecast droughts with 98 percent accuracy, combining traditional knowledge with new technologies. In recognition of her achievements, she received a Distinguished Young Women Researcher award at the 2016 South African Women in Science Awards.

Technological advance has been the greatest impetus for poverty reduction throughout history, and artificial intelligence is the future of poverty mapping. It provides economists and scientists with better data in order to pinpoint and resolve problems that are holding developing countries back.

Philip Katz

Photo: Flickr

Rosenkranz Prize Winners Dedicated to Improving Healthcare in Developing Countries-TBP
The Rosenkranz Prize aims to fund the work of Stanford University’s rising research stars who have the desire to improve healthcare in developing countries but who lack the necessary resources.

Most grants in the scientific field are awarded to established researchers. But because the Rosenkranz Prize is awarded to rising researchers, it is able to split funds between two young researchers.

Marcella Alsan, MD, PhD, is investigating how the division of labor among men and women begins at a young age in the developing world. Alsan theorizes that this is because young girls are responsible for taking care of younger siblings, missing endless days of school.

Alsan states, “Anecdotally, girls must sacrifice their education to help out with domestic tasks, including taking care of children, a job that becomes more onerous if their youngest siblings are ill.”

More than 100 million girls worldwide do not complete secondary school. Alsan will be analyzing whether medical interventions in children under the age of 5 show an increasing trend in schooling for their older sisters.

By analyzing this data, Alsan will be able to prove or disprove if sick siblings affect their older sister’s school participation. If this thesis proves true, implementing medical interventions in younger children will increase the amount of girls in school. By completing school, girls will be able to not only take care of family and their own children but also have a strong background in education.

The second Rosenkranz Prize winner, Jason Andrews, an infectious disease specialist, is focusing his funds towards the development of cheap, effective diagnostic tools for infectious diseases.

Andrews recalls working in rural Nepal as an undergraduate student and “founded a nonprofit organization that provides free medical services in one of the most remote and impoverished parts of the country . . . one of the consistent and critical challenges I encountered in this setting was routine diagnosis of infectious disease.”

Andrews realizes that the diagnoses are hindered by lack of electricity, limited laboratory resources and lack of trained personnel. To eliminate these obstacles, Andrews is developing “an electricity free, culture-based incubation and identification for typhoid; low cost portable microscopes to detect parasitic worm infections; and most recently an easy-to-use molecular diagnostic tool that does not require electricity.”

Andrews does not want to develop new diagnostic approaches. Rather, Andrews believes he can develop the diagnostic approaches already in place to function in an affordable and accessible manner.

With the Rosenkranz Prize, Andrews is also able to develop a simple, rapid, molecular diagnostic or cholera that is 10 times more sensitive than the tests currently available. Andrews plans to test this new technology in Nepal.

The Rosenkranz Prize has allowed two individuals dedicated to helping healthcare in developing countries by providing the necessary funding. With the help of Alsan, girls may be able to attend school without worrying about ill siblings, and Andrews has shed light on the problems facing many developing countries when providing medical help. But by further developing the diagnostic approaches available, healthcare will change for the better.

– Kerri Szulak

Sources: Scope, Stanford
Photo: Stanford CHP/PCOR

According to the World Bank, renewable and efficient energy are key to overcoming global poverty. Researchers have recently found that carbon-based materials can offer some of the most effective sources of renewable solar energy.

The first source is an all-carbon solar cell developed by researchers at Stanford University. As the name suggests, the cell uses carbon to replace traditional silver and indium tin oxide, which are far more expensive.

What proves most beneficial about the cell is the consistency. The prototype is a thin film, and because of this, it can be placed on top of existing equipment to gather energy. This means new windows or panes do not need to be retrofitted to the new design. Instead the film can simply be placed on top and the energy will generate.

The product is still in the developmental stages, thus not yet reaching the levels of silicon solar panels. This is partially because the carbon-based material needs infrared light to function. While this is problematic, researchers are confident that they can adjust the material to make it a potent form of energy that can be used around the world.

Another carbon-based material has also been found as an excellent steam generator. Solar-powered steam is effective for electricity, but there are other uses that make it ideal for areas of the world whose only natural resource is sunlight. These include refrigeration, sterilization, chemical purification and waste treatment.

Despite its many beneficial uses, it will be hard to pass these on at a commercial level. While it might take a while, it seems that the researchers at MIT are confident about solar energy.

The verdict on both of these carbon-based materials seems to be similar: they can be quite effective but are still in nascent stages. However, the research that has happened up to this point has proven to be very promising. Researchers have looked into several different solutions to each of the unique problems posed.  The big incentive backing it should be enough cause to act.

– Andrew Rywak

Sources: The Economist, Scientific American, Gizmag
Photo: Gizmag

design for extreme affordability
Design for Extreme Affordability, a graduate course offered by Stanford University, aims to give students the tools needed to “design products and services that will change the lives of the world’s poorest citizens.”

Offered by the university’s Institute of Design, 40 students from a variety of different disciplines complete the course each year, producing ten final projects that aim to achieve cheap solutions to serious global problems.

They are taught design and marketing principles, form student teams, collaborate with local partner organizations, travel to their project sites, prototype and test their products and present their final projects product proposals. According to the Stanford course website, emphasis is placed on “design for the developing world, including economic, technological and cultural considerations.”

When the course is completed, many students actually fulfill their proposal and see their idea through to completion. In fact, a considerable number of Design for Extreme Affordability projects have found global success.

For example, Embrace, an international nonprofit maternal and child health organization, was created as a result of the course. The Embrace Warmer, the organization’s central product, is a low-cost innovation to help care for premature infants in developing countries.

Usually, the solution for premature infants is to place them in an incubator until they are able to regulate their own body temperature. However, incubators are expensive and require electricity, training to use and maintenance. Consequently, mothers in less-developed countries must find different methods to save premature infants from hypothermia. They often resort to using fire, light bulbs or hot water bottles, all of which are dangerous and ineffectual. There was a clear need for an affordable, non-electric and safe method to keep infants warm.

This was the challenged posed to one team of graduate students taking the Design for Extreme Affordability course, and the Embrace Warmer was its result. The price tag is under 1 percent of the cost of a standard incubator, and its wraparound design is durable, portable, safe, hygienic and very effective.

The Embrace team’s idea has blossomed into an international organization that has reached over 50,000 infants across the world and made a real impact.

Stanford’s Design for Extreme Affordability is not just another school project. It is an intensive year where dedicated and motivated students–with support from expert staff–create practical solutions to life-threatening global problems.

With the courses direction, students have been able to consistently create innovative products that are making a difference in the world today. Hopefully the course will continue to inspire the university’s gifted students to direct their talents toward the global community.

– Emily Jablonski 

Sources: Embrace Global, Huffington Post, Stanford
Photo: Stanford Daily

According to a new study by Stanford University’s School of Medicine, health-aid is having a direct impact on the increase of life expectancy and reduction of child mortality in developing countries. While the results of this study could come as no surprise to some, the implications are far reaching.

The study examined public and private health-aid programs implemented in 140 countries between 1974 and 2010. Contrary to common perceptions about the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of foreign aid, researchers found that health-aid grants have led to significant health improvements.

According to Eran Bendavid, MD, an assistant professor in the Division of General Medical Disciplines and lead author of the study, countries benefiting from health related foreign assistance saw greater improvement in child mortality rates and life expectancy than countries that receive less.

“If these trends continue, an increase in health-aid of just 4 percent, or $1 billion, could have major implications for child mortality. We estimate there will be 364,800 fewer deaths in children under 5.”

Moreover, Hans Rosling, famed Swedish statistician and development expert, explains that “as child mortality continues to fall, women are choosing to have fewer and fewer babies.” This trend is not only far reaching in terms of world health, but also has greater implications for population management.

Once again, using his trademark development data and statistical tools, Rosling tackles the correlation made between reducing child mortality and overpopulation.

He emphasizes the importance of improving measuring capabilities in development programs, especially when it comes to women’s health and family planning. Citing the case of Ethiopia, Rosling shows how “improved access to health service in rural areas and well-spent aid” have contributed to the fall of child mortality rates from 23 percent to only 8 percent in a period close to 25 years.

These two studies point to several important conclusions when it comes to health-aid. First, it is imperative to continue to support health-aid programs and even improve funding levels. Second, there should be greater emphasis on data collection and measuring tools to identify if program goals are being met. And last, the inclusion of family planning initiatives parallel to addressing child mortality and women’s health promises to generate better results.

— Sahar Abi Hassan

Sources: Health Canal, New Security Beat
Photo: NY Times

Despite the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea’s penchant for holding Americans hostage and despising the United States on principle, the country has nonetheless reached out to a Stanford University-led research team to help solve its mounting tuberculosis (TB) crisis.

North Korean doctors first approached Stanford Medical School and California-based tuberculosis experts in 2008. Since that time, the North Korean government has invited members from the Stanford Medical School to address the state of TB in the country, the worst in the world outside of sub-Saharan Africa.

Tuberculosis affected 8.6 million people in 2012 and claimed 1.3 million lives. While it is largely eradicated in industrialized societies, the respiratory disease still affects developing countries located in Southeast Asia, Africa and the Western Pacific.

North Korea’s problems with TB arose in the 1990’s, when the country was wracked with floods, droughts and ultimately wide-spread famine after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1990. Without aid from their former Communist ally, widespread malnutrition overwhelmed the country’s inhabitants, resulting in upwards of 2.5 million starvation related deaths.

Improper nutrition coupled with few medical supplies led to a resurgence of TB in the country. In 1998, the Ministry of Public Health began implementing Directly Observed Treatment Short (DOTS) course, a repetitive and now defunct method of TB treatment.

Unlike other regions that evolved their treatment methods (like sub-Saharan Africa,) North Korea continued use of DOTS resulted in Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR TB,) particularly virulent strains of the disease that do not respond to basic antibiotic therapy.

Although North Korea does not keep drug-resistance records, a report by Eugene Bell, an NGO specializing in patient relapse, revealed large numbers of TB relapse in North Korea, signifying particularly high levels of MDR TB.

“We had anecdotal information from North Korean doctors, who were right on this one. They weren’t able to diagnose drug resistance, but they could see what happens when they treated people with drugs and they came back,” says K.J. Seung, a Eugene Bell doctor and author of the MDR TB report in the Public Library of Science. “Now we have original scientific data that clearly documents drug resistance.”

The notoriously xenophobic regime’s plea for help has resulted in the 2013 installation of North Korea’s first diagnostic laboratory to test drug-resistant MDR TB. In collaboration with the TB Consortium and the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit working to strengthen global security, the team is dedicated to improving North Korea’s treatment facilities and teaching North Korean doctors modern methods of controlling the disease.

The invitees must remain apolitical and are constantly monitored by minders, government-appointed tour guides that ‘mind’ what one sees and does in the hosting country. Despite these constrictions, researchers have continued their efforts to bolster MDR TB resistance efforts, noting the health of North Korea and the world depends on their efforts.

Emily Bajet

Sources: Global Post DDN News, Stanford, Stanford, Stanford Medical School, North Korea Now, Mother Board, World Health Organization
Photo: Vice

American sentiment global poverty
Though the United States is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, the country ranks poorly when it comes to aid and contributions to global poverty. In a ranked global list of 27 developed countries, the United States tied for 19. This gap in aid can be explained by the belief that Americans care more about helping people geographically near them than helping people who live further away.

A study conducted by the Center for Global Development established a “Commitment to Development” Index which measures the contributions of developed countries to less-developed nations around the world. The study also splits aid into 6 different sectors in order to account for every kind of assistance given by countries.

The security sector of the study, for example, deducts points from countries that give weapons to unstable or tyrannical governments. The study concluded that the United States does less than the average developed country to help underdeveloped nations, resulting from the lack of attention given to people residing in further countries.

Furthermore, a study conducted by a PhD student at Stanford found a clear correlation between citizens’ support for foreign aid and the amount of aid given by their country. In the United States, many people are very generous and give public and private donations at high levels; however, these donations are directed to fellow Americans. As it stands, a majority of Americans support donating to their fellow citizens and cutting aid in the form of food and money to foreigners.

Both studies go far in explaining the low levels of aid given by the United States of America to foreign nations. In order to increase the amount of aid given to foreign nations, the United States will have to change its attitude, thus allowing for a positive affect on the amount of aid donated overseas.

– Lienna Feleke-Eshete

Sources: Think Progress, Center for Global Development