With summer break now behind us, and the autumn gradually unfolding (the pace seems slower with the economic uncertainties all around), my new public website is being assembled. Icelandic graphic designer Solveig Rolfsdottir is working on the project and I hope this is the beginning of many more collaborations.
Media headlines have recently highlighted the growing air pollution crisis in Asia’s expanding cities. This is caused by a mix of factors – the growing number of vehicles, coal-powered factories, people burning dirty fuels to heat their homes, and poor enforcement of standards – and has severe consequences for human health. If it’s not tackled, more and more countries will see large rises in respiratory problems, cancers and early deaths from pollution-caused illnesses (http://www.nrdc.org/air/).
The World Health Organization (WHO) says air pollution is the world’s largest environmental health risk, killing 7 million people every year. Asia has the largest number of air pollution deaths in the world, with 3.3 million deaths linked to indoor air pollution and 2.6 million deaths related to outdoor air pollution (Clean Air Asia).
While most of the Asian countries where this is a problem are also aggressively growing their economies in order to get richer and raise living standards, there is a rising awareness of the need to balance a modern, industrial economy with human health and the environment.
One solution is to adopt green and sustainable building standards when constructing new factories. This is more than just a public relations exercise: the energy savings possible from building smart pay off in the long run. And green factories not only pollute less, they save lives and the environment.
Asia plays a critical role in producing the world’s consumer products, from the small and simple to the highly complex components used in 21st-century computing technologies.
Intel (intel.com), the manufacturer of electronic devices and the computer chips that go inside them, is trying to lead the way. It has built a US $1 billion manufacturing plant 16 kilometers outside Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and it is designed to exceed Vietnamese environmental and sustainability guidelines and laws.
Opened in 2010, it boasts the country’s largest solar power system. It is also currently working on a water reclamation system to reduce water consumption at the plant by 68 per cent, according to The New York Times. It is hoping to receive certification from the US Green Building Council (usgbc.org).
It is all part of a wider trend that is starting to reverse the damaging, short-termist approach of the past. More and more Western multinationals and their Asian suppliers are building environmentally sound factories in the developing world.
According to the US Green Building Council, around 300 manufacturing facilities in Asia are either certified or are awaiting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. The LEED certification recognizes the building has met certain standards in becoming a ‘green’ building.
Going green is more and more part of corporate policy for companies that want to avoid the bad publicity of disasters such as the garment factory collapse that killed 1,135 people in Bangladesh in April 2013.
But it is not just driven by a desire to avoid bad publicity: large corporations that build factories in the global South are also realizing there are big financial savings to be made.
Intel has been able to reduce its global energy costs by US $111 million since 2008. It did this by investing US $59 million in 1,500 projects to boost sustainability across its facilities worldwide. The projects have reduced carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to the amount produced by 126,000 American households per year.
Intel’s solar array in Vietnam, which cost US $1.1 million, offsets the equivalent of 500 pollution-belching motorbikes every day.
How effective are LEED-certified buildings? The New York Times reported that a 2011 survey compared a typical shoe factory with a LEED factory run by the American sport shoe maker Nike. It found the LEED factory used 18 per cent less electricity and fuel and 53 per cent less water.
And this trend is creating a new economy unto itself. As an example, a new marketplace for industrial efficiency upgrading is developing in India. Power outages are frequent in India, so finding a way to save electricity and alternatives to dependence on the national power grid is attractive to any economic enterprise.
Prashant Kapoor, principal industry specialist for green buildings at the International Finance Corporation (IFC), believes demand for upgrades is strong enough that various companies can specialize in this field and profit from it.
And things are also happening in the notoriously smog-choked cities of China. By the end of 2012, China had certified eight factories and 742 buildings as LEED, according to the China buildings programme at the Energy Foundation (ef.org) in San Francisco.
Damien Duhamel of Solidiance (solidiance.com), a firm that advises businesses on how to grow in Asia, believes avoiding risk caused by environmental accidents or scandals is heightened by the growing presence of social media, which amplifies negative publicity.
“The next battle will be here” for higher corporate environmental standards, Duhamel believes. “This is why some smart companies – Intel, for example – took the steps of being proactive.”
Published: April 2014
1) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED): LEED, or Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, is a green building certification program that recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices. Website: http://www.usgbc.org/leed
2) US Green Building Council (USGBC): Its mission is to transform the way buildings and communities are designed, built and operated, enabling an environmentally and socially responsible, healthy, and prosperous environment that improves the quality of life. Website: http://www.usgbc.org/
3) Dwell: Dwell magazine is focused on demonstrating that modern design can be both functional and comfortable. Website: dwell.com
4) Inhabitat: Design for a Better World: Inhabitat.com is a weblog devoted to the future of design, tracking the innovations in technology, practices and materials that are pushing architecture and home design towards a smarter and more sustainable future. Website: inhabitat.com
6) Clean Air Asia: Clean Air Asia was established in 2001 as the premier air quality network for Asia by the Asian Development Bank, World Bank, and USAID. Its mission is to promote better air quality and livable cities by translating knowledge to policies and actions that reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from transport, energy and other sectors. Website: cleanairinitiative.org
8) Better Air Quality Conference 2014 and 8th Regional Environmentally Sustainable Transport Forum in Asia: From 19 to 21 November 2014 in Colombo, Sri Lanka, BAQ is the leading event on air quality in Asia, covering the key sectors of transport, energy, industry and climate change, with a particular emphasis on government policies and measures. Website: http://cleanairinitiative.org/portal/node/12274
9) Tianjin Eco-city: The Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city’s vision is to be a thriving city which is socially harmonious, environmentally-friendly and resource-efficient. Website: tianjinecocity.gov.sg
10) Songdo: Songdo International Business District (IBD) officially opened on August 7, 2009 as a designated Free Economic Zone and the first new sustainable city in the world designed to be an international business district. Website: songdo.com
Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.
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.
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/
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