I can’t help but feel pangs of guilt that to date my thought-leading on the potential of embedded and cloud based technology invariably centers around what it can do for me and my industry: my personal bubble. Whilst I could hide behind the innocence of blissful ignorance, if you consider what our inherently “developed world” embedded industry can offer to the developing world it really hits home; there innovation can mean the difference between life and death, far detached from my excitement at my ability to now control my central heating from the comfort of my office.
The global immunization program has been irrefutably successful, particularly in reducing child mortality in developing nations. One of the biggest causes of infant death, measles, declined by 71 percent between 2000 and 2011 and polio is on the verge of eradication. International efforts to drive down the cost of vaccination has saved millions of lives and prevented countless instances of illness and disability, whilst the antithetical battle of anti-vaccination is waged back at home.
You’ll find very few anti-vaxers in the developing world of course, in fact despite crying out for mass immunization, at the end of 2013 there remains nearly 22 million infants under a year old worldwide who have not received the standard DTP3 vaccine (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis) and a similar number who have failed to receive a single dose of the measles vaccine. Today an estimated 1.5 million infants still die from preventable diseases.
It would be easy to surmise this is purely a financial issue and that despite the best efforts of pharmaceutical manufacturers to drive down cost and governments and charities to raise funds, this is either insufficient, or those funds aren’t going where they’re intended. Due to cold stage requirements of vaccines, there is also a logistical issue in the warm climes in which they are most needed, though through silk stabilization technology this is being addressed. One of the biggest challenges, borne from the lack of real health monitoring infrastructure, multiple regional languages, and, in more remote areas, nomadic culture, is auditing exactly which child has or hasn’t had which vaccine.
Two companies, both incidentally from the identically named towns of Cambridge, though one in Massachusetts, the other here in the UK are working tirelessly together to overcome this challenge through cloud-based innovation. Diagnostics for All, a non-profit enterprise involved Cambridge Consultants to develop a smartphone-enabled vaccine check, is able to interpret data from an inexpensive paper-based diagnostic device. The design remit, targeted to the developing world, dictated the answer must be an easy-to-use, low-cost, point-of-care solution with minimal training effort.
The paper-based diagnostic element uses similar technology to home pregnancy tests, visually indicating the presence of chemicals which themselves detail whether the individual has had specific vaccinations or is currently unprotected. In the future this technology can be expanded to detect diseases themselves at a stage far earlier than any traditional symptom based diagnostics could ever hope to – which in the case of serious diseases is often too late.
The interface to the smartphone both removes the potential for human error in interpreting the results, in itself removing the need for trained doctors or nurses to administer the tests, and provides an efficient way to log the results, addressing the inherent lack of auditing capability without the need for expensive infrastructure. You may well have asked yourself the same question about the lack of availability of smartphones in the target regions as I did. The reality is that one single smart phone can serve as the cloud interface for innumerable individual tests and the supporting software executes happily on models very much at the budget end of the smart phone spectrum.
Perhaps now we can now fulfil the prophesy Edward Jenner began in 1798 with his introduction of the very first vaccine for smallpox. In 2015, we should be innovating to prevent diseases that are as yet unpreventable or untreatable, not still deploying preventions to those that should have disappeared decades ago. History seems to be proving that it’s technology, not money, that truly helps drive the developing world’s long term sustainability and prospects – and I’m proud to watch our industry play a significant part.