Rethinking Healthcare

In Ethiopia, modified beverage cooler preserves TB drugs

In Ethiopia, modified beverage cooler preserves TB drugs

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Tuberculosis still strikes more than 10 million a year. To help drugs along, an MIT team designed solar-powered CoolComply, which monitors temperatures and compliance with the dosage regime.

While largely controlled in industrialized nations, tuberculosis is a persistent killer in most of Africa and parts of Asia and South America. Now, a modified soft-drink cooler could help make a dent in its impact. MIT News writes.

Multidrug-resistant TB strains are spreading, and the drugs used to treat the disease (several doses a day over 18 months) must be kept at a controlled low temperature. High temps release a gas inside the medicine packets, which can make patients violently ill.

Not only does the usefulness of the drugs require reliable electricity, it also requires continuous monitoring by healthcare workers to administer the drugs regularly.

MIT’s Little Devices Lab might have a low-cost solution to address both those issues: CoolComply, adapted from a commercial one designed to keep drinks cold.

  • Runs on either plug-in power or solar cells.
  • Contains circuitry to monitor the temperature inside and transmits an alarm if it rises too high.
  • To track compliance, each cooler records the exact time and date when the box is opened, so only a single dose is dispensed.
  • A built-in cellphone transmitter sends info on temperature and cooler activity to a central health facility where data are stored and monitored.

Right now, many patients must be provided with coolers that require daily deliveries of ice, and their compliance with the dosage regime is checked regularly by visiting health workers.

That limits the number of patients who can be treated, and the daily ice deliveries cost $600 a year – about double the cost of the CoolComply system.

The team won a $100,000 award as a Vodaphone Americas Foundation Wireless Innovation Project and a $50,000 grant from the Harvard Catalyst.

Since last fall, 3 prototype devices have undergone field testing in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This summer the team hopes to deploy at least 10 more for further testing. The devices could soon be produced locally and distributed by a small for-profit company specifically set up for this.

[Via MIT News]

Image: Little Devices

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Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure