Slowly but surely, cell phones are making it possible to offer once-expensive and inaccessible technologies for minimal cost to the developing world. The winners of Vodafone's Wireless Innovation Project Competition have taken the first steps, offering medical screening and business operations management tools to anyone with wireless capabilities.
The $300,000 first-place winner of the competition is MobileOCT, an early-stage startup that has developed tools to turn a digital camera (including a smartphone) into an accurate cervical cancer detection device.
In the U.S. and other countries with comprehensive health care systems, women typically get yearly screenings for cervical cancer with a pap smear. If the pap smear is positive, a gynecologist observes the cervix through a device called a colposcope, and often takes a biopsy as well.
Cervical cancer is easy to detect and extremely slow-moving, so it's considered to be a preventable disease. But video colposcopes cost between $10,000 and $14,000 (used, they're still $3,000). In the developing world, community health workers often instead examine the cervix using a flashlight, and out of an abundance of caution, overtreat with cryotherapy (which is relatively harmless). "They're missing early-stage cases and overtreating 5 out of 6 times," explains Ariel Beery, the CEO of MobileOCT.
The MobileOCT Scope consists of both hardware and software—a clip-on lens and software that helps clarify images of the cervix. Once an image has been taken, it's easy to send to a doctor to decide whether or not to perform treatment. The setup costs just $400, and has accuracy levels comparable to a traditional colposcope.
More details can be found in the video here:
The device will go into multiple field trials and pilots in the coming weeks.
The second-place winner, SOKO Enterprise, is a mobile tool that lets small-scale artisans (and other producers) manage all of their productions, operations, and sales, cutting out middlemen who take big portions of revenue.
EyeMITRA, the third-place winner, is another mobile phone attachment—this time, for imaging of the retina. By examining the retina, health workers can detect diseases like diabetic retinopathy, which is the top cause of blindness in adults.
Developed at the MIT Media Lab, eyeMITRA is reportedly one tenth the cost of other imaging devices, so it's ideal for low-income areas around the world.