How innovation is delivering health for all
Ahead of World Health Day, discover some of the most exciting recent health innovations from the Springwise library
The year 1948 was a significant one for global health. In the space of just three months, two of the world’s most recognisable healthcare organisations were born: the UK National Health Service and the World Health Organization (WHO). And the date of the foundation of the WHO, April 7th, has since become World Health Day. This international day of awareness draws attention to a different global health issue each year, and 2023 marks its 75th anniversary.
A lot has changed over the past 75 years, with global healthcare innovators delivering truly extraordinary, life-saving breakthroughs. For example, since the foundation of the WHO, wild polio and smallpox have been eradicated, and a vaccine for malaria has been developed.
But despite this progress, there is no room for complacency. The theme for World Health Day 2023 is ‘Health for All’, and the COVID-19 pandemic has set back every country’s efforts to provide everyone with good health for a fulfilling life. In fact, 30 per cent of the global population is still not able to access essential health services today.
Healthcare access – particularly in developing countries – is intimately tied up with a range of other development challenges. For example, in January, a joint report by the WHO, the World Bank, the International Renewable Energy Agency, and Sustainable Energy for All found that nearly 1 billion people are served by healthcare facilities with unreliable or no access to electricity.
And looming over everything is the threat of the climate crisis, to which healthcare is both a contributor and a victim. If the global healthcare sector were a country, it would be the fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Meanwhile, the WHO reports that climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050 – from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea, and heat stress alone.
The in-trays of the world’s health innovators are therefore bulging at the seams. But fortunately, at Springwise, we see exciting innovations every day. And to mark World Health Day, we’ve dipped into our library to provide you with some of the most exciting innovations making sustainable healthcare available for all.
Health for all
In line with the theme of ‘health for all’, many of the innovations spotted by Springwise are focused on bringing the benefits of healthcare to previously under-served regions. For example, the WHO estimates that 1.5 million deaths are caused by vaccine-preventable diseases each year. And 60 per cent of infants who have not received a full dose of the DPT vaccine live in just 10 countries.
One of the main obstacles to improving essential vaccine distribution is a lack of refrigerated storage – something which Kenyan-based company Drop Access is looking to change with a solar-powered fridge for delivering vaccines to rural communities. This system uses the Internet of Things (IoT) to track the temperature, location, and maintenance needs of each unit. Longer-term, another startup, EnsiliTech, is developing a technology that makes biopharmaceuticals such as vaccines safe and stable at room temperatures.
Another health issue that disproportionally affects less developed countries is malaria, and this can have a knock-on effect on development more broadly. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in Africa alone, malaria causes $12 billion in lost economic activity each year. A vital component in tackling the disease is universal testing of all suspected cases. But in many regions where malaria is endemic, access to testing facilities is poor, especially in remote areas. In response, a research team at the University of Queensland has developed a new test that uses infrared light and takes only a few seconds using a device operated through a standard smartphone.
Healthcare has a significant impact on the environment, with hospitals generating over 5 million tonnes of waste each year. And the COVID-19 pandemic has only made things worse. Last year, the WHO reported that 8 billion doses of vaccine have been administered around the world resulting in 144,000 tonnes of additional waste.
Around 85 per cent of the waste generated by healthcare facilities is non-hazardous general waste, but 15 per cent is toxic, infectious, or even radioactive. Helping to tackle this issue is Irish startup Envetec, which has developed a proprietary biodegradable chemical that processes hazardous lab waste on-site. Called Generations, the system transforms potential pollution into recyclable polymer flakes that are safe to handle and transport – and are usable in a huge range of other manufacturing processes.
Another source of waste that has taken off during the pandemic is personal protective equipment (PPE), which is typically used only once. Mexican startup MEDU is addressing this with a line of virus-resistant medical garments that can be washed and reused up to 50 times.
Meanwhile, health-related waste is not limited to hospitals – a significant amount is generated in the community from prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines. Tackling this problem is Cabinet Health, a startup that has developed the world’s first refillable and decomposable medicine packaging system.
Health on the go
For many, health is increasingly seen as something to monitor ‘on the go’ as part of daily life, and this has led to a flurry of health-focused wearables. In fact, the medical wearables market is expected to reach $196.5 billion by 2030. This growing consumer demand for health tracking is pitting traditional healthcare companies and startups against consumer technology giants such as Samsung. And Springwise has unsurprisingly spotted numerous innovations in this field.
US startup Epicore Biosystems has created Connected Hydration – a real-time sweat, motion, and skin-temperature-monitoring wearable. Meanwhile, researchers at Imperial College London, are reimagining health-tracking hardware with a conductive thread that makes it possible to track health through T-shirts and facemasks.
Physical wearables are not the only method for monitoring health. In the UK alone, it is estimated that two million people are living with ‘Long Covid’. And startup Visible has developed an app that helps those suffering from Long Covid and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis better track their symptoms and manage activity. The app allows users to log symptoms, sleep quality, and their menstrual cycle. They can also measure heart rate and heart rate variability (HRV) by placing a finger on the back of the smartphone’s camera lens.
Words: Matthew Hempstead
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4th April 2023