Anurag Mairal, director of technology solutions at PATH Health Technologies, says that it's time to start looking at low-cost innovations in healthcare differently. What should the road map be for an innovation? Should the product debut in a developing country first and then, evolve for the developed market or vice versa?
"We're at a point now, that companies cannot just keep adding bells and whistles to the same product to garner sales," Mairal told me.
So, given the increasing costs of healthcare in the U.S. and in Europe, companies are looking increasingly at simpler solutions that have the capacity to criss-cross border with a few tweaks.
PATH is a Seattle-based non-profit. But it's working with the commercial sector to scale, distribute, and market its innovations. That's Mairal's task. He's a new addition to the PATH team, after a noted career with Johnson & Johnson companies. He is symbolic of this merger between social impact and commercial viability.
His approach includes disruptive innovation (disrupt the global health system by changing the cost equation, moving away from a grants-based approach to a commercial-approach) and developing a market for said innovations. It's not enough to innovate. Must build a system to introduce these innovations to the market, advertise them, create distribution chains, and get them to the end-user.
PATH was started in the 1970s by three researchers: Gordon Duncan, Rich Mahoney, and Gordon Perkin. Their aim was quite the same: bring together public health and the private sector. Their focus, though, was slightly different: population control. So, their first innovations addressed population overload -- interventions to curb birth rates -- and were focused on Asia.
Since then, they've expanded their focus, looking at nutrition, water, sanitation, vaccinations, and reproductive health. Here are some of the innovations that PATH has piloted:
River blindness tests
It looks like a pregnancy test but it's designed to identify river blindness (or a tropical disease, "onchocerciasis"), which is a preventable condition that has affected 37 million people globally, many in poor, rural communities situated near a water source. With a grant from the Gates Foundation for $1.8 million, PATH created this device. Traditionally, a health worker would have have to draw a vial blood, take it to a clinic where it can be processed, and then report the results several days later. The later strip, however, requires just one drop of blood from a finger prick and results are available in 20 minutes. Ideal for rural health workers.
Rice is a popular grain, eaten by half the world's population. Fortified rice includes micronutrients such as iron, thiamin, zinc, vitamin A, and folic acid. PATH partnered with food purveyors in India, Brazil, and Colombia to produce the fortified grains to combat iron deficiencies, malnourishment, and anemia. Now, the grains are being coupled with school meal programs, such as in Burundi, to ensure that they reach school kids in low-income communities.
Mobile-phone milk pasteurization
Still in the works, FoneAstra is a system that uses mobile phones to monitor flash-heat pasteurization of donor breast milk. When a mother's milk is not safe to consume or is simply not available, human milk banks (HMB) fill the need; WHO supports the use of HMBs to address malnourished infants. However, the pasteurization process is tricky and healthcare facilities are hesitant to use this donor milk, unsure of its safety. By having a cell phone attached to the pasteurization device, FoneAstra enables these health clinics to monitor data on pasteurization, assuring them that the milk is safe to use. A pilot is under way in South Africa with the Human Milk Banking Association.
PATH created this design after consulting with women globally (in the US, South Africa, Thailand, and Dominican Republic) to ensure that they had single-size solution. It's more "discreet" than the condom, is easier to use than hormonal contraception, and enables women to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy and some sexually-transmitted diseases. Now, PATH is commercializing this for sale with Germany-based health company, Kessel. But, it's also trying to figure out how the diaphragm could be integrated into family planning programs, given that it's a reusable product and would eliminate trips to a local health clinic. Those projects are under way in Uganda, India, and South Africa.
Vaccine vial monitors
Vaccine temperatures are critical - if too hot, they lose their potency. One of PATH's earliest innovations (1996) included the vaccine vial monitor- a square indicator on the label that lets health workers know if the vaccine is still safe to use. Modeled after a technology used in the food industry, it prevented WHO from dumping massive quantities of vaccines whose potency would be "unknown" after a day in the sun or in the hands of a health worker. UNICEF and WHO claim that this innovation saves the global health community $5 million every year.
The opposite problem of vaccines getting too hot -- they freeze in the carriers. Coupled with ice packs, the vaccines can be at the risk of freezing which diminish their potency as well. Solution? PATH discovered a new way to use nontoxic, biodegradable phase-change material with ice packs to prevent freezing.
Here's a product that debuted in the developed world but is being refined, and considered for the developing world as well. While you can find a female condom in drug stores, Mairal explains that they're not popular. Why? They're not always easy to use and can be uncomfortable. A more refined version, developed by PATH, has higher quality materials (i.e. 0.03 mm thin polyurathane film that allows for heat transfer), claims to be easier to use and feels more natural.
Rather than showcasing pre-made videos on maternal and neonatal health, PATH's Digital Public Health Platform -- basically, video and projector equipment- is enabling rural women in Rajasthan, India to create videos, showcase their films, and answer questions. The community-driven approach includes teams of health workers for local solutions and storytelling.
Einstein’s gravitational waves rest on a genuinely radical idea.
After decades of anticipation, we have directly detected gravitational waves—ripples in spacetime traveling at the speed of light through the universe. Scientists at LIGO (the Laser Interferometic Gravitational-wave Observatory) have announced that they have measured waves coming from the inspiral of two massive black holes, providing a spectacular confirmation of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, whose hundredth anniversary was celebrated just last year.
Finding gravitational waves indicates that Einstein was (once again) right, and opens a new window onto energetic events occurring around the universe. But there’s a deeper lesson, as well: a reminder of the central importance of locality, an idea that underlies much of modern physics.
Ben Stiller’s follow-up to his own comedy classic is a downright bummer, no matter how many celebrity cameos it tries to cram in.
You don’t need to go to the theater to get the full experience of Zoolander 2. Simply get your hands on a copy of the original, watch it, and then yell a bunch of unfunny topical lines every time somebody tells a joke. That’s how it feels to watch Ben Stiller’s sequel to his 2001 spoof of the fashion industry: Zoolander 2 takes pains to reference every successful gag you remember from the original, and then embellish them in painful—often offensive, almost always outdated—fashion. It’s a film that has no real reason to exist, and it spends its entire running time reaffirming that fact.
The original Zoolander, to be fair, had no business being as funny as it was—it made fun of an industry that already seems to exist in a constant state of self-parody, and much of its humor relied on simple malapropisms and sight gags. But it was hilarious anyway as a candid snapshot of the fizzling-out of ’90s culture. Like almost any zeitgeist comedy, it belonged to a particular moment—and boy, should it have stayed there. With Zoolander 2, Stiller (who directed, co-wrote, and stars) tries to recapture the magic of 2001 by referencing its past glories with increasing desperation, perhaps to avoid the fact that he has nothing new to say about the fashion industry or celebrity culture 15 years laters.
Today’s empires are born on the web, and exert tremendous power in the material world.
Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t had the best week.
First, Facebook’s Free Basics platform was effectively banned in India. Then, a high-profile member of Facebook’s board of directors, the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, sounded off about the decision to his nearly half-a-million Twitter followers with a stunning comment.
“Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades,” Andreessen wrote. “Why stop now?”
After that, the Internet went nuts.
Andreessen deleted his tweet, apologized, and underscored that he is “100 percent opposed to colonialism” and “100 percent in favor of independence and freedom.” Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, followed up with his own Facebook post to say Andreessen’s comment was “deeply upsetting” to him, and not representative of the way he thinks “at all.”
The bureau successfully played the long game in both cases.
The story of law enforcement in the Oregon standoff is one of patience.
On the most obvious level, that was reflected in the 41 days that armed militia members occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns. It took 25 days before the FBI and state police moved to arrest several leaders of the occupation and to barricade the refuge. It took another 15 days before the last of the final occupiers walked out, Thursday morning Oregon time.
Each of those cases involved patience as well: Officers massed on Highway 395 didn’t shoot LaVoy Finicum when he tried to ram past a barricade, nearly striking an FBI agent, though when he reached for a gun in his pocket they finally fired. Meanwhile, despite increasingly hysterical behavior from David Fry, the final occupier, officers waited him out until he emerged peacefully.
The revolution that ended the reign of beards occurred on September 30, 331 b.c., as Alexander the Great prepared for a decisive showdown with the Persian emperor for control of Asia. On that day, he ordered his men to shave. Yet from time immemorial in Greek culture, a smooth chin on a grown man had been taken as a sign of effeminacy or degeneracy. What can explain this unprecedented command? When the commander Parmenio asked the reason, according to the ancient historian Plutarch, Alexander replied, “Don’t you know that in battles there is nothing handier to grasp than a beard?” But there is ample cause to doubt Plutarch’s explanation. Stories of beard-pulling in battles were myth rather than history. Plutarch and later historians misunderstood the order because they neglected the most relevant fact, namely that Alexander had dared to do what no self-respecting Greek leader had ever done before: shave his face, likening himself to the demigod Heracles, rendered in painting and sculpture in the immortal splendor of youthful, beardless nudity. Alexander wished above all, as he told his generals before the battle, that each man would see himself as a crucial part of the mission. They would certainly see this more clearly if each of them looked more like their heroic commander.
When four American women were murdered during El Salvador’s dirty war, a young U.S. official and his unlikely partner risked their lives to solve the case.
On December 1, 1980, two American Catholic churchwomen—an Ursuline nun and a lay missionary—sat down to dinner with Robert White, the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador. They worked in rural areas ministering to El Salvador’s desperately impoverished peasants, and White admired their commitment and courage. The talk turned to the government’s brutal tactics for fighting the country’s left-wing guerrillas, in a dirty war waged by death squads that dumped bodies in the streets and an army that massacred civilians. The women were alarmed by the incoming Reagan administration’s plans for a closer relationship with the military-led government. Because of a curfew, the women spent the night at the ambassador’s residence. The next day, after breakfast with the ambassador’s wife, they drove to San Salvador’s international airport to pick up two colleagues who were flying back from a conference in Nicaragua. Within hours, all four women would be dead.
A robotic road safety worker in India, a sacrificial llama in Bolivia, a sea otter receives a valentine, a deadly earthquake in Taiwan, a leopard attack in India, and much more.
A murmuration of starlings over Israel, a robotic road safety worker in India, a sacrificial llama in Bolivia, border barriers between Tunisia and Libya, a sea otter receives a valentine, a deadly earthquake in Taiwan, the annual Shrovetide football match in England, a leopard attack in India, and much more.
Jim Gilmore joins Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina, and leaves the race after a poor showing in New Hampshire.
Jim Gilmore’s candidacy this year was improbable—but even more improbable was the minor cult of personality that developed around it.
The former Virginia governor never had a chance. Not, like, in the sense of Lindsey Graham, a candidate with national standing but no path to the presidency. More in the George Pataki sense: a guy who had no real business in race, but was running anyway. Except that Gilmore made Pataki look like a juggernaut. Also, Pataki saw the writing on the wall and had the sense to drop out in late December. Gilmore soldiered on, and ended up as the last of the truly longshots to leave.
The result was that Gilmore turned into a sort of folk hero. Not for voters, mind you—he managed only 12 votes in Iowa and 125 in New Hampshire, and his campaign was funded largely by loans from himself. Because of his low support in the polls, Gilmore only made the cut for the very first kid’s-table debate in August, and then again for the undercard in late January. Other than that, he was shut out completely.
The number of American teens who excel at advanced math has surged. Why?
On a sultry evening last July, a tall, soft-spoken 17-year-old named David Stoner and nearly 600 other math whizzes from all over the world sat huddled in small groups around wicker bistro tables, talking in low voices and obsessively refreshing the browsers on their laptops. The air in the cavernous lobby of the Lotus Hotel Pang Suan Kaew in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was humid, recalls Stoner, whose light South Carolina accent warms his carefully chosen words. The tension in the room made it seem especially heavy, like the atmosphere at a high-stakes poker tournament.
Stoner and five teammates were representing the United States in the 56th International Mathematical Olympiad. They figured they’d done pretty well over the two days of competition. God knows, they’d trained hard. Stoner, like his teammates, had endured a grueling regime for more than a year—practicing tricky problems over breakfast before school and taking on more problems late into the evening after he completed the homework for his college-level math classes. Sometimes, he sketched out proofs on the large dry-erase board his dad had installed in his bedroom. Most nights, he put himself to sleep reading books like New Problems in Euclidean Geometry and An Introduction to Diophantine Equations.
By mining electronic medical records, scientists show the lasting legacy of prehistoric sex on modern humans’ health.
Modern humans originated in Africa, and started spreading around the world about 60,000 years ago. As they entered Asia and Europe, they encountered other groups of ancient humans that had already settled in these regions, such as Neanderthals. And sometimes, when these groups met, they had sex.
We know about these prehistoric liaisons because they left permanent marks on our genome. Even though Neanderthals are now extinct, every living person outside of Africa can trace between 1 and 5 percent of our DNA back to them. (I am 2.6 percent Neanderthal, if you were wondering, which pales in comparison to my colleague James Fallows at 5 percent.)
This lasting legacy was revealed in 2010 when the complete Neanderthal genome was published. Since then, researchers have been trying to figure out what, if anything, the Neanderthal sequences are doing in our own genome. Are they just passive hitchhikers, or did they bestow important adaptations on early humans? And are they affecting the health of modern ones?