Some years ago, the John Adams family biographer Paul Nagel introduced me to physician/poet Norbert Hirschhorn. Paul told me that Bert was on the team that helped save thousands of lives in Third World countries simply by distributing water to which sugar and electrolytes had been added. (A National Institutes of Health paper references Bert’s 1973 research on “oral glucose electrolyte solution for all children with acute gastroenteritis” here.)
A special NY Times science supplement on Sept. 27, 2011, “Small Fixes,” reminded me of Bert and the notion that small innovations can have a huge impact.
Among the great stories in the supplement. is this one about Thailand’s success fighting cervical cancer with vinegar.
It turns out that precancerous spots on the cervix turn white when brushed with vinegar. “They can then be immediately frozen off with a metal probe cooled by a tank of carbon dioxide, available from any Coca-Cola bottling plant.” The complete procedure, which can be handled by a nurse in one visit, has been used widely in Thailand, where there are a lot of nurses in rural areas.
In Brighton, Massachusetts, Harvard’s George Whitesides founded Diagnositcs for All to commercialize his inventions, including a tiny piece of paper that substitutes for a traditional blood test for liver damage. Costing less than a penny, “it requires a single drop of blood, takes 15 minutes and can be read by an untrained eye: If a round spot the size of a sesame seed on the paper changes to pink from purple, the patient is probably in danger.” Read the Times article.
Amy Smith at MIT is another one who thinks big by thinking small. Read about her Charcoal Project, which saves trees in poor countries by using vegetable waste to make briquettes for fuel.