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Mobile Phone Microscopes to Revolutionize Health Diagnostics

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

Mobile phone usage has increased hugely across the global South in the past five years. In Africa, the number of mobile phone subscribers reached 545 million in 2013, while there are 3.5 billion mobile phone users in Asia and the Pacific (ITU). Some 93 million people in Africa and 895 million in Asia and the Pacific have mobile phone Internet access (ITU).

“Every day we are moving closer to having almost as many mobile-cellular subscriptions as people on earth,” Brahima Sanou, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, wrote in its latest report on their growth.

The number of mobile phone subscriptions in the developing world has surpassed 5 billion and the number in the world as a whole reached 6.8 billion in 2013 (ITU), out of a world population of more than 7.1 billion. This compares to considerably lower numbers of people with access to the Internet: 2.7 billion in the world (ITU).

While many people in poorer countries have basic versions of mobile phones, the next generation of smartphones has been growing in number as prices come down (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smartphone). Examples of these smart phones include the BlackBerry, Apple’s iPhone, the Samsung Galaxy, and the Nokia Lumia. Smartphones tend to have enormous computing power and an ability to run complex ‘apps’ or applications – including public transport options, maps, restaurant and store locators, banking services and market information and resources. They can also access the Internet through Wi-Fi, and have camera and video capability.

What people can do with these feature-packed phones is limited by little other than human imagination. With the ability to store large amounts of data and images, using apps that perform a limitless range of services and tasks, smartphones can be deployed as powerful tools to tackle problems.

Science fiction sagas have long fantasized about people being able to walk around with small electronic devices that can do immensely powerful tasks, including being a medical diagnostic tool. But this science fiction dream is rapidly becoming reality in the global South.

Various initiatives and innovators are using mobile phones and smartphones to conduct medical diagnosis and gather data for medical studies in real time.

Some innovations are even turning smartphones into mobile microscopes.

Developed by the University of California, Berkeley in the lab of Professor Daniel Fletcher (http://cellscope.berkeley.edu/), the CellScope (cellscope.com) is capable of turning the camera on a cell (mobile) phone into a diagnostic microscope with a magnification of 5x to 60x. Fletcher’s lab has also pioneered work on needle-free injection technology.

The CellScope can be used for ocular imaging (technologies for visualizing and assessing a range of diseases of the eye) and for detecting tuberculosis, blood-borne diseases and parasitic worms.

Fletcher is a bioengineer and was impressed with how much mobile phone technology has proliferated across the global South.

“You don’t have to put in these copper wires (for phone lines) anymore; you have the (cell) towers. It’s big business,” Fletcher told The Scientist Magazine.

“It’s leaping over the need for infrastructure.”

Fletcher and his colleagues experimented by attaching extra lenses to smartphones. They then used the phone to image cells that had been stained with fluorescent dyes to make them easier to see. The quality of the image was so good, they were able to diagnose malaria from blood samples and tuberculosis from sputum (spit) samples.

With the addition of image analyzing software, the phone was able to automatically count the number of Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacilli. They were trying to prove you did not need conventional microscopes to do this sort of diagnostic work.

Fletcher and his colleagues are currently trialling the technology in Vietnam, India, Cameroon and Thailand.

“Technology alone doesn’t create effective health care,” Fletcher emphasizes. “It’s got to be part of a context in which the information is captured and validated and is analyzed in the right way, and treatments are then available in response to information.”

Another group from Toronto General Hospital in Canada (http://www.uhn.ca/corporate/AboutUHN/OurHospitals/Pages/TGH.aspx) has ‘hacked’ an iPhone smartphone by placing a 1 millimeter ball lens on the phone’s camera. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist, had been investigating parasitic worm infections in children on Pemba Island off the coast of Tanzania. Along with Jason Andrews of Massachusetts General Hospital, they had been inspired by a report about how a team of researchers from the University of California, Davis had created a simple microscope out of an iPhone with a 1 millimeter lens. This makeshift microscope was used to take pictures of blood smears at a 350 times magnification and giving a 1.5 micron resolution.

“We thought that was a great idea,” Bogoch told The Scientist Magazine. Bogoch regularly works as part of an international team around the world, often in remote locations.

“We thought … we could take it to the field and see if it accurately works in a more real-world setting.”

Inspired, Bogoch got together with his colleagues and created a similar microscope with a 3 millimeter ball lens and then got to work using it to identify soil-transmitted helminth eggs in stool samples in Tanzania. When examining the stool samples of 199 children in a clinical trial using the makeshift microscope, they were able to accurately identify helminth infections in 70 per cent of the cases. They also found the iPhone microscope did very well at spotting eggs of particular parasites, such as 80 per cent of Ascaris lumbricoides infections (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ascaris_lumbricoides). The success rate dropped significantly, however, when trying to detect whipworm parasites (just over half) and hookworm infections (14 per cent).

But this is early days and an experiment: “Obviously the results aren’t perfect and there’s definitely room for improvement,” Bogoch admits.

What stands out is the potential to completely revolutionize health care by continuing to develop the capability of smartphones. With their portability and low cost, they also have the advantage of not needing a trained physician to operate them, according to David Walker, president of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, in The Scientist Magazine.

One of the many advantages of combining a microscope with a digital smartphone is the ability to take a picture and send it straight away to someone to make a diagnosis.

Even more exciting, Sebastian Wachsmann-Hogiu at the University of California, Davis (http://cbst.ucdavis.edu/people/sebastian/) is adapting mobile phones to undertake spectroscopy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spectroscopy), using diagnostic test software to analyze samples on the spot. This, when successful, would be akin to the capabilities first mooted in the science fiction television and film series Star Trek (startrek.com). In Star Trek, the doctor is able to use a small handheld digital device to quickly diagnose what ails somebody.

The potential for this technology in the global South is significant. Aydogan Ozcan at the University of California, Los Angeles, who is also working on mobile phone microscopes, believes this is as significant as the dawn of the personal computer: “If you look at the early computers, they were bulky, they were extremely expensive,” he says.

But now computers “are portable … and almost anyone can afford them. The same thing is going on today (with microscopy). We are miniaturizing our micro- and nano-analysis tools. We’re making them more affordable; we’re making them more powerful.”

It looks like this science fiction dream will soon become today’s reality.

Resources

1) World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators Database. Website: http://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/stat/default.aspx

2) HealthMap: HealthMap was founded in 2006 by a team of researchers, epidemiologists and software developers at Boston Children’s Hospital. It is an established global leader in utilizing online informal sources for disease outbreak monitoring and real-time surveillance of emerging public health threats. Website: http://www.healthmap.org/en/

3) A home-made portable microscope: A design developed in the 1970s by Chinese students who fashioned a microscope from a plastic bottle. Website: http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/indexmag.html?http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/artjul00/awscope.html

4) Ways to make simple homemade microscope lenses. Website: http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/indexmag.html?http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/artoct07/jd-lens.html


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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David South Consulting Ranked In The Top 10 Million Websites

According to Siteefy.com, there are over a billion websites in the world (1,197,982,359 websites in the World as of January 2021), so to rank in the top 10 million isn’t that bad. And with the world’s population now heading towards 8 billion, it really isn’t that bad. However, we have been better. In 2015 (the year the UN launched its Sustainable Development Goals) we ranked in the top million (920,811), according to Alexa.

A lot has happened since (for example, Google changed its algorithm for search), but it is impressive the website still draws in a healthy readership. If you like what you read here or on our other websites (davidsouthconsulting.org), then we are happy to receive whatever you can afford to help cover the costs of keeping content online (see below) and creating new content. 

Global ranking for davidsouthconsulting.org as of 03/07/2022.
Global ranking for dsconsulting.squarespace.com as of 03/09/2022.

We accept payments and donations. We use any funds received to keep content online, or to create new content. Thank you! https://www.paypal.me/davidsouthconsulting

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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CASE STUDY 6: International Consulting | 1999 – 2014

Expertise: Project evaluation, strategy, project management, project delivery, UN system, MDGs, research papers, media strategies and digital media strategies.

Locations: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, Kiev, Ukraine, Pretoria, South Africa, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan 2000 to 2006

Consultant: David South

Click here to view images for this case study: CASE STUDY 6: International Consulting | 1999 – 2014 Images

Abstract

From 1999, I worked as a consultant for United Nations (UN) missions in Africa, Asia, Central Asia and Eastern Europe, for USAID Mongolia and for a UK-based international development consultancy. 

About

Was the United Nations being effective and reflecting the potential for change in the mobile and information technology age? What needed to change? Who were the policy innovators?

This work included overseeing various digital media projects, including the strategic re-development of the UN Ukraine web portal, aiding in the rolling out of the media campaign for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Mongolia, including the first use of infographics in the Mongolia UN mission, advising on strategies for youth engagement in development goals in South Africa, and support to the UN mission in Turkmenistan as it finalised its United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) with the government and also work with UNICEF there. What I learned during this period proved crucial to the insights and thinking reflected in two highly influential United Nations publications, e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions, and Southern Innovator magazine (developed in 2010). 

This period was particularly advantageous because I had a front-row seat to the unfolding digital and mobile information technology revolution sweeping across the emerging markets and the global South. I also had insight into what worked and didn’t in international development as well as the UN system. I also learned a great deal about development challenges first-hand in highly varied countries, how the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were actually being rolled out, and met amazing people who were challenging existing precepts on how to do development. All of this work proved very useful later on. 

I have either travelled to, or worked and lived, in many countries, enhancing my global perspective and affording me a valuable trove of knowledge that has in turn informed my work in international development. I have always paid attention to the level of development in the country, how it has organized itself, the quality of its design, and how it interacts with other countries for trade and relations. The countries visited to date include: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Canada, China, Cuba, Denmark, Domenica, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guadalupe, Haiti, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Montseratt, Morocco, the Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Vatican City. A fascinating mix of countries – some holders of top place on the UN’s Human Development Index – and others where human development is at its worst. Seeing with your own eyes what works and what does not is highly illuminating, while knowing first-hand how human development can be improved is critical for giving informed advice.  

Timeline

1999/2000: USAID Mongolia (design and publicity strategy for business development brochure, US Mongol (Mongolia) Construct and US tour, work with Riverpath Associates in the UK on communications strategies and the drafting of papers for the American Foundation for AIDS Research, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, UNCTAD, Harvard Institute for International Development, and the preparation of the report and launch strategy for the World Bank’s Task Force on Higher Education. 

http://www.davidsouthconsulting.com/blog/2018/1/10/us-mongol-construct-2000-business-prospectus-building-a-new.html

http://www.tfhe.net

2000: UN Ukraine: strategic re-development of the UN Ukraine web portal and incorporation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). 

2004: UN Mongolia (media campaign for MDGs) and UN South Africa (evaluation of youth NGO associated with the University of Pretoria and its projects and providing a strategic marketing plan).  

2005: UN Mongolia (media campaign for MDGs) and UN Turkmenistan (finalising its United Nations Development Assistance Framework – UNDAF).

Rukhnama publishers in Turkmenistan’s capital, Ashgabat (2005). Photo: David South
An infographic commissioned for UN Turkmenistan MDGs report (2006).

2006: UN Turkmenistan (work with UNICEF). 

Testimonials 

“I highly recommend Mr. David South as a communications consultant who gets results.” Brian DaRin, Representative/Director, USAID Investment & Business Development Project, Global Technology Network/ International Executive Service Corps-Mongolia, 23 September 1999

Impact 

Micro 

  • working as a communications consultant for UN missions – Ukraine, South Africa, Mongolia, Turkmenistan
  • redeveloping mission websites, preparing content, reports, advising on communications strategy
  • working with local designers on new ways to present development data through inforgraphics (2005/2006) 

Macro 

  • in the course of travel and work, seeing the unfolding impact of the global communications revolution, in particular the rapid roll-out and take-up of mobile technologies, and the urgent need for the UN system to take this on board. Also witnessed firsthand the grassroots solutions revolution brought about by information and mobile technologies and the Internet, which needed to be fully embraced by the UN 

Resources 

A Marketing and e-Marketing Strategy – the New SASVO, Prepared from December 2004 to February 2005 for the Southern African Student Volunteers (University of Pretoria). 

A Moment in Time: AIDS and Business, American Foundation for AIDS Research, 1999 

Closing the Loop: Latin America, Globalization and Human Development, UNCTAD, 1999 

David South Consulting Summary of Impact 1997 to 2014

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Innovations in Green Economy: Top Three Agenda

Mongolian Media Project Infographic

Peril and Promise: Higher Education in Developing Countries, World Bank/UNESCO Task Force on Higher Education, 2000

South-South Cooperation for Cities in Asia

Southern Innovator

Southern Innovator and the Growing Global Innovation Culture

Southern Innovator Summary of Impact 2011 to 2012

Southern Innovator Summary of Impact 2012 to 2014

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2017

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10 Years Ago

It was 10 years ago this month that Southern Innovator‘s first issue launched in New York during the UN’s General Assembly week (UNGA). It focused on mobile phones and information technology for a reason: these connectivity transformations were re-shaping how people lived their lives, even in the poorest and remotest places on earth.

The content was based on global research, beginning in 2007, funded by the United Nations.

Southern Innovator Editor and Writer David South.

Press Release 1

“What a tremendous magazine your team has produced! It’s a terrific tour de force of what is interesting, cutting edge and relevant in the global mobile/ICT space… This is great, engaging, relevant and topical stuff.” Rose Shuman, Founder & CEO, Open Mind and Question Box, Santa Monica, CA, U.S.A.

While Southern Innovator’s digital presence has been key to its success and global reach, the hard copy of the magazine was designed with special features. The magazine needed to be robust and able to stand a fair bit of abuse and hard wear. It needed to be easy to read in low light conditions. And it needed to look sharp and eye-catching to reach as wide an audience as possible.

“Beautiful, inspiring magazine from UNDP on South-South innovation. Heart is pumping adrenaline and admiration just reading it.”

New Branding and Website

In 2010, as we prepared to launch Southern Innovator, the branding and website for David South Consulting was re-visioned by Icelandic graphic designer and illustrator Sólveig Rolfsdóttir. David South Consulting has been working with clients around the world since 1991.

Graphic Designer and Illustrator: Sólveig Rolfsdóttir.

20 Years Ago

Over 20 Years Ago

Mongolia’s first web magazine, Ger, launched in September 1998. It was also the first web magazine for the United Nations.

“The transformation of Mongolia from a largely rural nomadic society of herdsmen to a community dominated by the increasingly ultra-globalized city of Ulan Bator, where almost a third of the population lives, is nothing short of astounding. The New Mongolia: From Gold Rush to Climate Change, Association for Asian Studies, Volume 18:3 (Winter 2013): Central Asia

Logo and graphic design: P. Davaa-Ochir.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021