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In a reversal of roles, rich countries are looking to the developing world for lessons in healthcare innovation, from the design of portable diagnostic machines to implementation of community health programmes.
Chinese engineers, funded by medical technology company GE Healthcare, developed a portable electrocardiogram machine — MAC 800 — a few months ago. The machine, tailored for local needs, was originally intended for sale in China only. But MAC 800 has now found a new home in the United States.
Elsewhere, a Haitian community-health worker programme serving hard-to-treat HIV patients, developed in the late 1990s, has formed the basis for the Prevention and Access to Care and Treatment project in Boston, which is being expanded to New York City hospitals and health departments.
In India, researchers collaborated on a lens that reduced the cost of cataract surgery in the country. The lens is now exported to developed countries including Canada, Denmark and Israel.
"Unconstrained by our history, [developing countries] train people differently, create new sorts of organisations, involve families and communities and concentrate more on promoting health rather than on just tackling diseases," Nigel Crisp, a former permanent secretary of the UK Department of Health, commented in The Times, a UK newspaper.
Crisp says that developing world healthcare can provide "general lessons for richer countries".
But some people are pessimistic about the West’s ability to learn from the developing world.
"I think there are a ton of lessons that can be applied… But I haven’t sensed that the United States is ready for that," says Josh Ruxin, assistant professor at Columbia University. "Hyper-technologisation of everything" leads to a rejection of simpler solutions, he says.