New Inventions Help Fight Diseases in the Developing World


Thorson also used a U.S. military-developed battery that would be powerful enough to keep the unit charged for many hours without power interruptions, but small enough to fit on the camel comfortably. This was important for keeping the medicine safe for use.

"It needs to stay between 35 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit, because otherwise you will destroy the vaccine," she explained. "Too high or too low, you're dead, it's over."

In Kenya, Camels Make Perfect Mobile Medical Units

The most significant improvement Thorson made over older models was the use of cutting-edge, pliable solar panels to charge the batteries. According to Thorson, these panels were originally designed for the U.S. military to be used on rooftop security cameras in Iraq.

Thorson said the new panels provide power for extended periods of time so soldiers don't have to risk their lives to constantly change the batteries.

They were perfect for Thorson's purposes too. She said the panels can provide potentially limitless power to her system and can be folded for easy travel. Also, they can survive in the inhospitable desert environment.

Finally, she designed her unit to fit on a wooden camel saddle native to that region of Kenya. This was done so no one would have to buy new saddles to use the system and the camels would already be used to what's on their backs.

"The goal is eventually to have five routes and the camel clinics go through each route once a month," she said.

Although Thorson is currently using her own money for her design, she said a British company is considering manufacturing and marketing her system worldwide, pending approval from the WHO. If that works out, Thorson said she would plan on donating her share of the profits to fund the camel caravan in Kenya.

GeneXpert: Tuberculosis Results in a Flash

Tuberculosis still kills 1.7 million people annually worldwide, and Asia has the highest number of TB and multiple drug-resistant (MDR) TB cases, according to the World Health Organization. It's a disease that has been nearly wiped out in the West.

ABC News' Dan Harris reported on TB cases in Cambodia. It's a country with one of the highest rates of TB incidence in the world, because a large number of people suffer from HIV and already have weakened immune systems.

Cambodia tuberculosis

One big problem: patients often have to wait weeks for test results to be processed, if they decide to go get tested at all. The average untreated MDR TB patient infects 12-15 people in his or her lifetime. It can be spread by an infected person coughing in a heavily-populated area.

"If you don't catch it early, people are coughing ... it's a very dense area," said Dr. Anna Goldfeld, a professor at Harvard Medical School who has been studying the impact of infectious diseases and treating Cambodia's TB and HIV patients for two decades.

Now there is new hope in fighting TB. GeneXpert MTB/RIF is a revolutionary diagnostic tool that can test for TB and drug resistance in two hours -- a novel and important improvement to the old tests. Developed by Cepheid, a California company, GeneXpert analyzes the genetic makeup of a sputum sample to determine if the patient is infected with TB.

GeneXpert was originally developed with input from the Pentagon to test for Anthrax. It resembles a coffee machine, and costs around $20,000.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...