They suffer, We benefit

I was just reading an article about an additional technology based on the mobile phone, which can be used for eye examinations. Once again, somebody applied their innovative mind to solve a problem that continues to harm countless people. As it turns out, the problem is much more in the developing world where there is often minimal electricity and clean water, few basic tools and medications and not much of everything else except need. What is also lacking in these areas is an active interest on the part of the large medical organizations or major investors.

In the push to develop an entire mobile and inexpensive medical assessment package, quite a number of companies have shown interest in the developing countries. Clearly, in this part of the world, any solution is pretty much better than what is available now. Even partial success is still some degree of success, because in many parts of the world, there is presently nothing.

The developers and of course the on-site doctors in the poorer areas will accept almost any assistance, no matter how tested and validated it is or is not. These developers and doctors aren’t taking advantage of the need of people; they are focused on finding real solutions to the needs of these poorer areas. In practice though, once a product or treatment has proven itself in more desperate areas, it then becomes the target of major investment and further testing and product development.

In most cases nevertheless, devices and treatments are wholly developed in the Westernized world without any initial thought about implementation in third world markets.There is a technology that I recently discussed that allows a technician to run hundreds to over a 1000 tests on a single drop of blood. The device that does this is already a technological miracle. In time, it will shrink and end up being the size of the palm of a human hand. Unquestionably, this would be a boon for care in the developing world. Tests that were simply unavailable outside of the States and Europe would become cheap enough and mobile enough to be available to all. At what point will such a device migrate to the developing world?

I could, of course, write endlessly about the lack of parity in terms of medical care between regions of the world. Whatever I would write would simply be added to the countless pages that have already appeared in books and magazines and reports, that probably have been read by far too few people. All that I am discussing here is the reality and practicality of the situation.

Newsflash to the world: life is not fair. But the development of these kinds of technologies, no matter what the ultimate or ulterior interest, helps people of minimal means. The whole world moves forward when these technologies come to market. Unquestionably, certain parts of the world benefit more and faster. But as unevenly as the benefits are spread, they are still spread.

It probably will not be too long before the components of an entire medical center will be such that they can be wrapped up in a relatively small sized container. Within this small area, we will probably soon see entire labs, advanced imaging, remote consultation services, and of course an initial supply of the most commonly used medications for the region. In the near future, I could easily imagine that every drug known  to humankind, will be printable via a specialized 3-D printer that literally draws from bottles of elements and constructs medications. Such a device is likely a few decades away. But given the pace at which 3-D printing is advancing, I wouldn’t be surprised if I were dramatically surprised.

Surgical treatments will still require a surgical suite. But as we find treatments that are nonsurgical for previously classified surgical diseases, the whole world will benefit from this. And yes, once again, wealthier regions will benefit faster and earlier than poor regions. But everyone will benefit.

So imagine such a container, with all of these medical capabilities, being helicoptered into a location. Such a container will not cost as much as a modern hospital. It probably will cost as much as a department in a hospital. So, for the cost of a complete modern hospital (which has many departments), an entire country in the developing world could have some access to quality healthcare. These clinics would be distributed to maximize accessibility while still keeping costs down. In the end, almost all people in a poorer country would have access to a quality of care never before dreamed of.

People do not like to hear the term “trickle down”, because there are many who believe that the wealthy do not spread their wealth. If you make the rich richer, the poor and even middle-class do not benefit. But technology is different. The cost of technology continues to drop from year-to-year, as if it was one of the universal rules of life. When I recently upgraded from my Samsung 3 phone to my Nexus 5, I realized how not that long ago, I saw the Samsung 3 as the ultimate piece of technology. But on the day that I upgraded, the Samsung looked old and worn out. But if we could provide a Samsung 3 level phone to every person on the planet, along with the connectivity to bring the Internet to all, the whole world would take a step forward.

I won’t pretend that we can fix the disparities in medical care between regions of the world in the near future. But things will get better for everyone. And at a certain point, things will be “good enough” everywhere. And that will be a miraculous time.

Thanks for listening

About the Author
Dr. Nahum Kovalski received his bachelor's of science in computer science and his medical degree in Canada. He came to Israel in 1991 and married his wife of 22 years in 1992. He has 3 amazing children and has lived in Jerusalem since making Aliyah. Dr. Kovalski was with TEREM Emergency Medical Services for 21 years until June of 2014, and is now a private consultant on medicine and technology.
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