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Science for Global Health

Advances in genomics and biotechnology as well as in other fields have led to the development of new technologies that are being employed in resource-poor settings, writes Francis Collins, the director of the US National Institutes of Health, in an essay excerpted at Vox.

Collins notes that new point-of-care diagnostics with DNA-amplification tests allows patients in developing countries to be diagnosed with tuberculosis and know whether their strain is drug resistant the same day. This, he adds, cuts down on weeks of waiting and taking possibly ineffective drugs. Collins estimates that if such a diagnostic were available worldwide, some 15 million lives would be saved by 2050.

Additionally, research efforts to study common chronic disorders in low-income countries are also underway, as such diseases are on the rise.

Collins adds that scientific knowledge also flows from low-income countries to higher-income ones. For instance, he points out that scientists in India have developed $20 high-performance prosthetic knee joints for amputees, lower-cost intraocular lenses for cataracts, as well as handheld devices that have brought the cost of electrocardiograms down to $1.

However, "[a]s encouraging as these early successes may be, we cannot afford complacency," Collins says.

"Much remains to be done if we want people in every corner of the world to be enjoying longer, healthier lives 50 years from now," he adds. "We need far more young creative minds — be they in Boston or Botswana, Beijing or Bangladesh — to tap into the power of science to explore questions of vital importance to human health."