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Old-Fashioned Health Care Technologies

Question: How is technology improving health care?

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Josh Ruxin: I think the most important technologies that we have are those that we’ve had for decades. One small example of that would be Oral Rehydration Therapy which is a simple solution of sugar, salt and water which can save the lives of severely dehydrated people, people dehydrated by cholera or intestinal worms which has resulted in severe diarrhea.

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I’ve actually seen kids who actually come back from death. They’re literally hours from dying, you give them the simple solution, in the right quantity, of Oral Rehydration Therapy, and they’re up running around playing soccer.

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Why isn’t that being used everywhere in the world? The answer is that the management, the wherewithal and the overall unity of focus on public health does not currently exist in so many countries. Instead, they might be trying more complex solutions, sophisticated antibiotics, and other interventions such as intravenous drips which can’t be administered in all resource-poor settings.

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It’s really a mixed perspective. There’s a lot to be said for new portable EKGs and also electronic medical records. But overall, first we have to figure out: How do we roll out the technologies that we’ve got a lot of practice with which we know are extremely effective? Those are technologies like insecticide-treated bed nets or combination therapy for malaria or anti-retro viral therapy for HIV/AIDS. These are all very basic interventions which have been with us at least a decade, if not decades more than that, and yet they’re not currently being implemented across the board.

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There are actually some new vaccines which have just come to market and are starting to be used in developing countries, including a vaccine for pneumonia, pneumococcal vaccine, which we just piloted in Rwanda. That’s going to save 6,000 lives. It’s just one shot in the arm that kids need periodically, and they’re going to be good. It’s going to end up saving more lives than lots of more sophisticated intervention.

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Recorded on: June 3, 2009.

Rwanda Works Director Josh Ruxin says simple vaccines can save more lives than sophisticated interventions.

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