A wearable sensor that can monitor vital signs of Ebola patients and easy-to-assemble chambers able to decontaminate health workers and equipment in less than three minutes are just two of the innovative solutions the federal government plans to help develop to address the ongoing challenges of the West Africa Ebola relief effort.
A total of 12 projects have been selected to receive funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development as part of the agency's Fighting Ebola: a Grand Challenge for Development. The initiative was launched last October as an open call to find new solutions to help improve resources that can be used in response to the current Ebola outbreak, as well as future disease threats.
“We are embracing a new model of development—one that harnesses the power of science and technology to bend the curve of development," USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah said in a statement. “Through the Fighting Ebola Grand Challenge, we will continue to source, test and scale groundbreaking innovations that will not only save lives in the months to come, but lay the foundation for more resilient and vibrant communities across West Africa.”
The latest announcement marks the second wave of award nominees from more than 1,500 ideas submitted to USAID between October and December. The $5 million initial program grant is a joint collaboration between USAID, the White House Office of Science and Technology, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Defense. Amounts allocated to each project have yet to be determined. The goal is to develop the selected innovations in time to be deployed for use in countries heavily affected by the Ebola outbreak.
The wearable patient sensor is being developed by the Scripps Translational Science Institute in partnership with predictive analytic firm PhysIQ and devicemakers Rhythm Diagnostic Systems Inc. and Sotera Wireless Inc. Also in development is a redesign of personal protective equipment by the Johns Hopkins Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design that will be easier and faster to put on and take off.
The sensor is a disposable Bluetooth-enabled wearable technology worn like a bandage. It can measure heart and respiratory rates, as well as body temperature and oxygen saturation of Ebola patients remotely.
Another solution expected to be tested in the coming weeks is an improvement on the rapidly deployable treatment unit being developed by Modula S Inc. It has been set up throughout parts of West Africa to treat infected patients when traditional healthcare settings are unable to handle the influx. The new design uses a building material that would be able to moderate unit temperature and simplify decontamination.
The number of Ebola infected cases has climbed to more than 22,000 as of Feb. 8, according to the World Health Organization, resulting in more than 9,000 deaths.
Despite a recent uptick in the number of newly infected cases, the pace of transmission has been showing signs of slowing over the past month, which provides an opportunity to test how well some of the solutions being developed work in a field setting, said Wendy Taylor, USAID director of the Center for Accelerating Innovation and Impact.
“We do have reason to believe that as we're in more of this wind down phase, it's actually going to make it much easier to test these products in these environments,” Taylor said. “You don't have as many patients coming through, but yet you have real conditions to test many of these products in.”
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