Medical Developments to Fight AIDS in the Developing World


An incredible challenge facing HIV/AIDS service organizations in the developing world is how to get testing supplies and diagnostic tools into remote areas, as well as how to protect those items from damage and decay. Village clinics, even when accessible, do not often have the same refrigerated storage facilities as clinics in developed nations. Even when adequate sanitation and power sources are present, there are myriad other difficulties that researchers and health care providers must contend with on a daily basis — even the seemingly simplest tools to ease these challenges can be vital and save lives. Let’s look at a couple of these recent improvements.

Late last year, Harvard researchers announced that they had created a tiny diagnostic tool that could be modified to test blood samples for the presence of HIV. As reported in Discover Magazine’s 80beats blog, “the sophisticated microfluidic diagnostic devices, called microPADS, are made out of little more than paper and sticky tape and cost about three cents each” (“Diagnostic Lab…”). Because the microPADS are so small, have no moving parts, and can potentially be modified to test using a variety of fluids, they may prove to be a revolution in treating tropical disease. For more information, please see 80beats and Technology Review.

In a sense, the developing world has benefited from the learning experiences of the developed world; for example, the growth of cell phones in developing countries as the primary telecommunications system, rather than the costly installation of land lines followed by the advent of cell phones–the traditional developed world paradigm. With cell phones, there can be extensive telecommunication throughout sub-Saharan Africa, but not necessarily through the installation of land lines for wired telephones. In essence, the developing world does not need to follow the same steps to achieve certain goals. These improvements can be both more practical and more economical for resource-poor settings, and the microPADS diagnostic tools are an excellent example of improving outcomes by reducing complexity.

Another intriguing concept is the CellScope, an inexpensive and portable microscope which attaches to a cell phone, allowing the viewer to save and transmit an image to a health care facility for diagnosis. The CellScope is designed to be used to view blood samples for identification of bloodborne pathogens, and its portability makes it appealing for use in mobile clinics and remote locations: if the clinic worker is unable to diagnose a disease on-site, he or she can send the image to another facility for further review. The potential for treatment is vastly improved with such simple, practical ideas. For more information on the CellScope, please see the October issue of Discover Magazine, or the 80beats blog post.

-Until There’s A Cure

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