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It sounds as logical as it is worrying: as the world’s population grows towards the next billion, the number of sick people will increase. Those living in the developed world are likely to be struggling with avoidable conditions such as stress and obesity, while those living in the developing world don’t usually have access to top-quality medical assistance.
Furthermore, we tend to grow older than the generations before us, which makes us more vulnerable the older we get.
The big question is: how can we adapt to this unstoppable trend?
The answer: we can’t avoid getting sick, so we have to improve our healing methods.
According to a 2006 Health Report by the World Health Organisation, there is an estimated shortage of almost 4.3 million doctors, nurses and health workers worldwide, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. The number will increase over the years because more and more people will require medical assistance. But we can’t produce enough doctors to cover all those needs. So the only solution is for the doctors to assist and cure faster. This only makes sense if the quality of the medical service increases at the same time.
And that’s where chemistry and innovation kick in.
Time is money, time can save lives. Doctors, be it in France, India or Bolivia, need better equipment allowing them to heal more people within a shorter timeframe. In order to do this, our technology must advance. And as we know, technological advance often comes along with a reduction of size. Mobile phones are smaller than 10 years ago, computer screens and televisions have become much thinner. Microchips or USB sticks carry our information, instead of our carrying dozens of papers around. Going small is the only way forward for us. Our ideas must focus on developing small-sized, innovative technology that can take medicine one step further.
There’s no lack of good ideas, and some have already become reality. Here are three examples:
In the following TED talk, Frederick Balagadde explains how he intends to take the current ‘lab-on-a-chip’ technology one step further by developing an HIV-kit which would allow doctors to treat patients 50 times faster.
Here’s another TED talk which serves as a real eye-opener. Quyen Nguyen explains how much time is lost when it comes to identifying the location and the size of tumours, and how time-consuming the analysis of cancer samples is with the current state of technology. Nguyen claims that with the help of molecular markers, tumours will light up in fluorescent light in their entirety.
A third revolutionary idea I want to present here is the bioneedle.
What do you do when you need a vaccine, but you’re scared of syringes and needles?
Not all vaccines can be taken orally. The UK-based non-profit organisation Katerva awarded its 2012 sustainability award to the inventors of the bioneedle – tiny, biodegradable mini-implants that absorb into the body within minutes, leaving no waste behind. The needles are so small that they can be transported easily to different locations on the globe.