In 2000, a number of world leaders initiated the Millennium Development Goals in an effort to reduce the number of individuals living in conditions of severe poverty. Among with implementing numerous steps to provide people in need with the basic necessities of life, this initiative gave rise to countless medical advancements aimed at preventing the development of serious conditions and thereby saving lives.
Several of these innovations are dedicated to helping safeguard the lives of children and infants, who are often the most vulnerable against deadly diseases. Through the work of countless governmental and medical groups, these medical treatments, pharmaceuticals, and devices have shifted the child mortality rate in developing countries. While there are still advancements to be made, the following innovations are helping save the lives of children in developing countries:
Oral Rehydration Treatment (ORT)
Affecting more than 1 billion patients each year, diarrheal disease is one of the primary causes of fatality in children younger than 5 years old. In serious cases, diarrhea can go on for several days at a time, leaving patients without the necessary fluids to survive. As such, dehydration remains one of the primary causes of death in those with the condition.
In order to combat this statistic, the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has partnered with numerous organizations to deliver oral rehydration treatment to children across the globe. When this method of care was first introduced, children could only receive treatment from trained hospital staff. However, changes to ORT delivery have made it easier and less expensive for those in developing countries to receive the life-saving care. The most efficient solution is to feed children a combination of sugar, salt, and one liter of clean water, but other substances such as gruel and rice water are also effective. UNICEF has made it easier than ever to deliver treatment, through packets of oral rehydration salts parents can easily mix with clean water and give to their children.
Through a collaboration with the University of British Columbia, LionsGate Technologies has developed an innovative mobile platform designed to monitor health and diagnose a wide range of conditions. Known as pulse oximetry, it was first used to supervise surgery patients who were under the influence of anesthesia. Traditionally, an oximeter device alerts the wearer to the oxygen level within the blood’s hemoglobin, a factor which can help alert physicians of such medical issues as hypoxemia and asthma.
Recent advancements in health care technology have made pulse oximetry more accessible than ever. LionsGate Technologies’ Kenek Edge device easily connects with Apple devices through the headphone port, making it easy for patients to assess their blood oxygen saturation (SpO2) levels within seconds. Compact and cheaper than traditional oximeters, the Kenek Edge gives physicians the ability to easily diagnose conditions such as pediatric pneumonia. This places doctors in a unique position, as it enables them to deliver the life-saving treatment that patients need.
The Pratt Pouch
Mothers who have been diagnosed with HIV can easily spread the disease to their newborns. However, the immediate use of antiretroviral medications Zidovudine (AZT) and Nevirapine (NVP) can dramatically reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission.
Many mothers in developing areas such as Sub-Saharan Africa cannot obtain these medications quickly enough because they give birth at home. Those who do have access to NPV traditionally receive it via syringe, a method which often causes the drug to lose its efficacy. Factors such as these have created a need for more innovative treatment delivery methods.
Researchers at the Duke University Pratt School of Engineering recently created a new method of storing AZT and NVP. Resembling a small condiment packet, the Pratt Pouch is a polyethylene five-layer container that can hold doses of liquidized antiretroviral medications for up to a year. This unique packaging allows doctors in developing countries to care for patients in local hospitals and rural areas alike. Available through health services firm Maternova, the Pratt Pouch enables mothers to easily deliver AZT and NVP to their newborns orally.
Recognizing a need to combat the life-threatening rotavirus gastroenteritis, numerous entities in the Government of India came together to develop a revolutionary treatment for children. Rotavirus most commonly causes diarrhea, which poses a serious threat to the lives of children in many developing nations across the globe. As such, researchers at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences converted an isolated rotavirus strain into the ROTAVAC vaccine. After two years of extensive clinical testing, the vaccine proved its efficacy at preventing the disease from manifesting in young children when administered to those between the ages of 6 weeks and 8 months.
ROTAVAC received official licensure in 2014 and has since become an instrumental part of immunization programs across India. At a low cost of $1 per dose, the vaccine is readily available and capable of saving countless children.
Pressurized Air Devices
Respiratory problems remain one of the most common causes of not only premature infant death, but global child mortality as a whole. Most young patients with these conditions receive life-saving treatment in the form of bubble continuous positive airway pressure (bCPAP), but not all hospitals have access to this form of care. With a typical price tag of $6,000 per device, many medical professionals in developing countries cannot afford them, instead opting for treatments that are readily available but less effective.
Recently, the Rice 360 Institute for Global Health spearheaded efforts to develop a new bCPAP device that would provide the same quality of treatment for a much lower price. A reliable means of treatment for newborns who have been diagnosed with respiratory distress syndrome, the device displayed promising effectiveness during a clinical trial in Malawi. At only $400, the Rice 360 device offers a hopeful future for neonatal care in developing communities across the world.