Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Innovation is more than new ideas

This week I read three articles in the NYT about advancements being made in technology as it relates to the fields of science and, ultimately, health. People talk all the time about the scientific advancements that are helping us to be healthier and live longer! but I am excited about these advancements because they are all known health issues with known treatments that have been studied by minds dedicated to making healthy bodies and minds available to more people. The first is a new method for detecting and fighting cervical cancer, which was, for a long time, the No. 1 cancer fatal to women. In developed countries, it lost that spot after development of the Pap smear. This article proposes an innovation that uses little more than household vinegar has the potential to bring down cervical cancer in less-developed countries. It is already changing the lives of many women in Thailand. The second development, by Harvard Doctor George Whitesides, is a disease-testing instrument the size of a postage stamp, and costs roughly a penny to produce. So far, this innovation is promising to help AIDS patients with tuberculosis by testing for liver damage. They literally use an $800 Xerox machine to produce the test. The third was created by art students in California: a shower cheap to make and easy to use, tested with displaced families after a natural disaster. Showering with soap is one of the most basic ways to fight disease, especially with children, but there are people that do not have access.

The funny thing is that I read another article in the opinion column about our general lack of willingness to adopt simple solutions to health problems (sort of like Naaman). I think it's a line easily blurred: between advancements that make health more accessible and efficient and advancements that make health more complicated. Perhaps there are easy solutions that are available to most in developed countries, but innovation can produce solutions that make a healthy body available to those who have never had it.