Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for April, 2009

Photo credit: Economist

Photo credit: Economist

I love free stuff. Who doesn’t? Even if I know I’m never gonna wear that XXL fluorescent green t-shirt, I’ll still take it. And if it’s something I actually can use (free iPod, anyone?)… well, all the better. I may even do something slightly uncharacteristic — say, sing in public — if the reward is good enough.

This is the thinking the folks at MIT’s famed D-Lab (Development Lab) — specifically, at Innovations in International Health — employed when they devised “X out TB. ” They rightly identified lack of patient compliance as one of the biggest obstacles to making tuberculosis treatment effective. Basically, patients need to take their daily course for 6 months in order to prevent nasty drug resistance and relapse. The problem is, people often don’t like taking their medicine, even if there’s a spoonful of sugar involved. Most TB symptoms disappear after month 2-ish, and the medicine can cause unpleasant side effects like nausea, diarrhea, and orange-colored urine.

According to this week’s Economist, MIT’s researchers used the weird orange pee phenomenon to their advantage. They created a device that changes color only if the urine shows traces of certain chemicals (the same ones that make it orange in the first place). And if it does, magic happens: a code appears that the patient can type into their cell phones, to avail of free minutes! Way cooler than anything Mary Poppins could ever offer.

The team is currently working on making the reward applicable to a wider audience (e.g., many women in Pakistan do not use mobile phones, and thus may be better incentivized by free food). I’m pretty impressed, though. If the X out TB team can make this financially sustainable, they could change the face of TB treatment forever.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Photo credit - Newsweek

Photo credit - Newsweek

“OMG, isn’t it, like, so disturbing to see all those beggars in India, with their disfigured limbs and stuff?”

You won’t believe how many times I’ve been asked that question. The sad part is that after living here for so long, it’s actually not that disturbing. It’s part of life. Regardless of how one may choose to respond (pay up, ignore, recoil, stare-but-try-not-to-stare), beggars have broadly been accepted as part of India’s daily urban fabric. Which is saying a lot, considering how this group includes children with severe malnutrition, men with missing limbs, broad-shouldered hermaphrodites, women carrying under-bathed infants, mentally retarded adolescents, and blind elderly couples. In certain societies, some of these guys may have a shot at joining a sickly voyeuristic circus; here, many have almost been normalized.

Despite India’s ability to absorb most “unusual” individuals, there is one sub-group that will probably always be shunned: the manual sewer workers. This sub-class of Dalits, known as balmikis, is forever destined to live on society’s extreme fringes. Unlike their brethren in the developed world, who are often provided bunny suits and respiratory gear before entering serpentine manholes, these Dalit sanitation workers usually enter with little more than a loincloth and a split bamboo stick. Upon entering the antiquated sewer pipes, they literally swim through pounds of liquefied feces to clear any blockages, all the while taking care to not touch the cockroach-laden walls. They continually breathe the offensive smell of human excreta, along with her toxic first cousins, Methane and Hydrogen sulfide. When they come up for air, they sometimes bruise themselves on the manhole’s rim, dizzy from the gases.

Within India’s silently strict social hierarchy, these Dalits are the untouchabliest untouchables. Even other so-called “untouchables” won’t go near these guys. (more…)

Read Full Post »