Devices that can save lives

Affordable, appropriate tools can improve health

Adapting existing health devices and developing new ones can improve the lives of people in low-resource settings who often have the greatest need for health tools. Effective, appropriate devices can make drug delivery easier and safer and sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy less likely.

Making lives healthier

New or improved devices can help overcome many challenges in global health. They include:

  • Safe injection devices. The reuse of syringes and needles without proper sterilization puts people at risk for infection with bloodborne pathogens such as the hepatitis B virus and HIV. Injection devices that cannot be reused make injections safer and simpler to administer. The Uniject® prefilled, autodisable injection system (Uniject) is one such tool. Uniject was originally used to deliver vaccines and is now being used with other drugs that require injection, such as oxytocin to prevent postpartum hemorrhage, the leading cause of maternal death.
  • Condoms. Male condoms are one of the most common methods for guarding against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Female condoms have the potential to expand women’s options for protection. For example, the Woman’s Condom allows women to control their own protection, helping to significantly decrease the transmission of HIV and prevent unwanted pregnancies. The user-driven design process for the new Woman’s Condom has been a key factor in its success to date, with studies showing that it is preferred over earlier versions of female condoms. With approval already granted in Europe in 2010 and China in 2011, the National Institutes of Health is conducting a trial to prepare for approval by the US Food and Drug Administration.
  • Contraceptive devices. Contraceptive technologies and devices can enable individuals to have safe, planned pregnancies. Research is underway to develop new and improved products such as intrauterine devices, diaphragms, vaginal rings, microbicide delivery devices, and implants inserted just under the skin. Many of these could provide women with contraceptive protection for years but would be easy to discontinue when women wish to restore their fertility. Scientists are also looking at ways to develop multi-purpose technologies that can prevent pregnancy as well as sexually transmitted infections like HIV. Other research is exploring contraceptive devices for men, including patches, nasal sprays, and implants that may pave the way for easily reversible and nonhormonal contraceptives for men.

Funding is crucial

Many of these and other devices are being supported by partnerships that involve the US government, the private sector, and philanthropic organizations. Global health devices have the potential to directly improve lives, and their successful development depends upon adequate funding for research and development of affordable products. Also needed is a thorough understanding of how products are likely to be accepted in the marketplace, health systems, and people’s lives. The global health community must ensure that, once developed, the devices will be affordable and available to those who need them most.

For more information on the above data, see:

Population Council. Building on decades of success: Pioneering contraceptive research and products.

PATH. Technologies for reproductive health.

PATH. Technology solutions for global health.

Global Health Technologies Coalition and Policy Cures. Saving lives and creating impact: Why investing in global health research works.

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