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New Tech for the Developing World

Five devices could ease the job of aid workers.

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Vaccines that spoil in tropical heat. Diagnostic tests that don’t provide results in time to treat the sick. Patients who spread disease because it goes undetected. Such are the frustrations that aid workers face in developing countries. Perhaps if they were armed with technologies such as these, they might save more of the 10.6 million children who die yearly from preventable or treatable illnesses.

An Unusual Timepiece

First developed to keep African miners healthy (and working), the Gervans Trading Malaria Monitor automatically pricks the skin four times a day to test the blood for malaria parasites. The device, which doubles as a watch, announces the parasite’s presence with an alarm and a flashing picture of a mosquito. Three antibiotic pills within 48 hours of diagnosis can cure a patient before he feels ill. Companies, governments and aid organizations in more than 40 countries have placed more than 1.5 million orders.

A Painless Vaccine

At 1,500 miles per hour, PowderMed’s Particle Mediated Epidermal Delivery (PMED) gene gun fires microscopic vaccine particles just far enough beneath the skin to reach immunity-producing cells, but just short of nerve endings, thus rendering the shot painless. Because PMED hits its target exactly, rather than overreaching like traditional shots, it administers one-thousandth the dose of needle injections. And because PMED vaccines are powders, they require no refrigeration and have extended shelf lives. Many vaccines, including those for influenza and genital herpes, are in Phase I clinical trials.

A Speedy Diagnosis

The Diagnostic Development Unit at the University of Cambridge has joined in the fight against trachoma, a chronic eye infection that has blinded approximately 6 million people worldwide. Its new eye swab test has a positive predictive power of 97.3% (compared with 43.6% for current visual inspection methods) and yields a diagnosis in half an hour. If caught in time, trachoma can be treated with one dose of antibiotics.

A Breath of Protection

To combat measles, which kills half a million people (primarily children) each year, engineering research-and-development firm Creare Inc. of Hanover, N.H., and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are testing a new intranasal vaccine-delivery device. The needle-free method is painless, fits in a child’s nose and would speed mass vaccination campaigns.

A Pocket-Size Lab Test

Fifteen minutes is all it takes for a miniaturized laboratory on a card (called the Optolab Card) to diagnose tuberculosis and other infectious diseases. The Ikerlan Technological Research Centre in Gipuzkoa, Spain, is developing the portable device, which analyzes each disease’s DNA chain to expedite diagnosis—and treatment.

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