Faith and Health, Sponsor

Technology in Global Health: An Instrument of Impact

May 5, 2021

by Guest Contributor

By Jessica Mussro, Communications Coordinator at American Leprosy Missions

Since our founding in 1906, American Leprosy Missions (ALM) has accelerated the exploration and application of novel solutions to cure, care and end high-morbidity neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) like leprosy. These diseases affect more than one billion of the world’s poorest and most marginalized people and can lead to lifelong disabilities, increased poverty, profound suffering and isolation.

During our long history, we have recognized that, in order to tackle NTDs, we have to pursue advances in treatment, like when we pioneered leprosy treatment with diasone in 1946 or piloted multi-drug therapy with the Philippines Department of Health in the 1980s. However, to restore people affected by NTDs to lives of dignity and hope, we have also had to overcome challenges beyond treatment. This holistic perspective motivated us to develop special farm tools and equipment for anesthetic hands in the 1970s, to launch research on the world’s first leprosy-specific vaccine in 2002, and to create protein databases, foot sensors and laboratory networks today.

Since we know that “business as usual” will not beat NTDs, ALM continues to invest in innovative approaches, systems, technologies and tools that create sustainable, positive impact for people affected. Uniting around technology in global health means we have a collective commitment to use all sorts of technologies—new and old, already existing and not yet created—to generate that type of impact.

American Leprosy Missions is exploring innovative technologies to combat NTDs in a variety of ways:

The HARP database, developed by ALM director of research and innovation, Dr. Sundeep Chaitanya, with the Blundell Group Laboratory at the University of Cambridge. Credit: ALM

 

  • A smartphone-based digital platform in testing phase in India, designed for health care personnel to screen and manage NTD cases and deliver morbidity management and disability prevention (MMDP) services at the home of the person affected (our regional director for Asia, Dr. Sunil Anand, is leading a CCIH conference session on May 25 to discuss the DHARA Project!).
  • A new Buruli Ulcer Laboratory Network in West Africa with a shared data portal to ensure accurate diagnosis of the flesh-eating disease, Buruli ulcer.
The team of representatives from 12 laboratories across West Africa forming the Buruli Ulcer Lab Network. Credit: ALM

 

  • A partnership with Biomeme, Inc., enabling ALM and our partners to adapt Biomeme’s hand-held point-of-need molecular testing technology for use with NTDs and other infectious diseases like COVID-19 in remote contexts.
Dr. Chaitanya and Dr. Madhusmita Das of the Schieffelin Institute test the Biomeme qPCR machine’s efficacy in diagnosing leprosy. Credit: ALM

 

  • A study of foot sensors to alert the wearer about points of pressure that could become ulcers or other impairments on people with anesthetic feet due to leprosy, a partnership with the Schieffelin Institute of Health—Research and Leprosy Centre in Karigiri, India.
Dr. Satish Kumar Paul at the Schieffelin Institute adjusts the first model of the foot sensor—his original idea—on a study participant. Newer models will be small enough to be fixed on footwear. Credit: Tom Bradley

 

These various technology projects encompass both incremental, novel adaptations of existing ideas and disruptive new solutions. They’re often inspired by or adapted from others. But our innovations are always focused on people – on getting solutions to the people affected – because we believe every person matters. In the global health space, we share that conviction with all of you: this belief is what unites us in our creativity, ingenuity and innovative use of technology.

A mobile lab in Ghana prepares to use a Biomeme machine for COVID-19 testing. Credit: ALM

 

 



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