Incredible progress is being made in the field of healthcare: from early cancer detection to telomere extension turning back the aging clock in cultured cells, 50c use-and-throw microscopy, new bionics than can enable a person to run, climb and dance and Japanese researchers announcing that bone and tissue bio-printing could be a year away from use in humans.
These technological advances may seem unrealistic when looking at the reality of our healthcare issues in Africa today, but it is important to keep in mind that as these technologies advance, they become more affordable and accessible.
Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 11% of the world’s population yet bears 24% of the global disease burden and commands less than 1% of global health spending. We have a severe shortage of hospitals, medical resources, trained doctors and nurses.
In sub-Saharan Africa, communicable, maternal nutritional and newborn diseases continue to dominate, while many people in the US have concerns about the health risks involved with fast food and overeating.
Although dramatic progress has been made in reducing health loss, lower respiratory tract infections, AIDS, diarrhoea, malaria and tuberculosis coupled with war and poverty have been the causes of many deaths. A large chunk of the population still doesn’t make it much past the age of 40. Many of these ailments are entirely preventable or already easy to treat.
The statistics are worrying, but there is hope on the horizon. Advances in exponentially growing technologies are changing the world as we know it, not only in developed countries, but also in the developing world, and there are solutions to our problems.
Let’s have a brief look at only a few of the incredible advancements that have the potential to change global healthcare for the better.
Lab-on-a-Chip is a technology that will make it possible to perform a blood test, without access to sterile equipment and trained personnel. Packaged into a portable, cellphone-sized device, it will allow doctors, nurses and even patients themselves to take a sample of bodily fluid and run diagnostics on the spot within minutes. It’s a game-changing technology that will bring reliable healthcare to billions of people, even in remote areas.
Cell-manufacturing technology has seen vast improvements over the past decade. Stem cells drive the incredible process of differentiation, growth and repair. Stem cells have the ability to revolutionise many aspects of healthcare like almost nothing else in the pipeline.
A major challenge is to grow organs, especially one of the most intricate organs in the body, the kidney. Instead of using cadaveric organs and tissue matrices, scientists are working on 3D-printing early versions of the organ. This kind of technology could save the lives of billions of people.
Whether it’s organ regeneration, repairing tissues affected by ageing, trauma or disease, this fast moving field will affect almost every clinical field. With the coming convergence of stem cells, tissue engineering, and 3D printing, we’ll soon have incredible tools for achieving healthcare abundance globally.
Artificial Intelligence in robots will also play a big role in health abundance. For example, age-related cataracts are the world’s largest cause of blindness, primarily in Africa and Asia. We can look forward to a future without these limitations. Imagine specialised robots that are able to conduct this type of simple and repeatable surgery with complete accuracy at little or no cost.
A company called Tribogenics is developing the next generation of x-ray solutions based on a breakthrough in physics – triboluminescence, the phenomenon that creates light through friction. The result is smaller, safer and cost efficient x-ray technology. It will bring a whole new level of care to field medicine in the developing world.
In the early days of disease outbreak, clinicians, public-health officials and policy makers need quick access to accurate data to plan a response. However, data collected through official public health institutions is often not available for weeks. Many people in the public health arena think social media can help solve this problem.
Social media can also play an important role in health. Reporting real-time outbreaks of disease can aid in the immediate and efficient management of an outbreak, reducing the chances of being infected.
There are geographic and demographic barriers and possible inaccessibility of social and news media after a natural disaster or lack of connectivity in certain areas to be considered. Social media are not a replacement for traditional communication models but can be used to complement existing methods.
And that is merely the tip of the iceberg.
Sources and further reading:
Diamandis, H.P and Kotler, S. 2012. Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think
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