Medical laboratories in the developing world lack two things: The necessary equipment and skilled personnel to perform reliable tests. In the past, there had been attempts to equip rural laboratories with technologies from the North. But there we encounter the next problem of these instruments not only being expensive but also requiring ideal hygiene conditions, electricity and highly skilled staff for application and maintenance – exactly those requirements resource-poor regions don’t fulfill. This once again proves the necessity of finding appropriate solutions that consider local conditions.
Diagnostics for All, a non-profit organization based in Cambridge, MA, creates innovative diagnostic devices based on a resource that is not only cheap but also universally available: Paper.
The patterned paper technology, developed by Professor George Whitesides and his team at Harvard University, allows the creation of low-cost and easy-to-use diagnostic devices. The pieces of paper, as small as postage stamps, contain assay zones that change color when blood, urine or other biological samples are applied to them. Results can then be read easily by comparing the color change with a reference printed on the device. And the best thing about it: Neither power, nor water nor trained doctors are needed to carry out a variety of diagnostic tests. The technology allows monitoring liver toxicity, the health status of pregnant women and newborns and the measurement of micronutrient levels. Apart from human health, the devices are furthermore applied in impact areas such as agriculture and food security. Preventing food spoilage by monitoringmilk, for example, is directly linked to the income and health of whole communities.
Haya Sindi, co-founder of Diagnostics for All, describes the various advantages of the paper-based technology:
- Success Stories