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Elizabeth Holmes dropped out of Stanford University at age 19 to found Theranos, which provides extremely low-cost medical lab tests. (Sunita Sohrabji photo)

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Several devices and solutions to provide quality health care and access to people at the bottom of the pyramid were highlighted July 24 and 25 at the Indian Institute of Technology’s Global Leadership Conference here.

Addressing the needs of India’s poorest citizens was a prevalent theme throughout the two-day conference. Several panels featuring Indian American entrepreneurs, among others, addressed issues of inadequate primary school education, food and water scarcity and lack of consistent energy supplies (see India-West’s report on the conference here:

More than 175 million people in India lack access to any form of health care. The problem is especially acute in India’s villages.

“India lives in its villages,” said Ranjani Saigal, executive director of the Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation in the U.S. “If the village does not grow, India does not grow,” said Saigal, adding that the needs of villagers must be met to allow villagers to remain in their homes – rather than migrating to urban areas – and participate meaningfully in growing the country’s economy.

“Access to health care is a basic human right,” asserted Indian American venture capitalist Vish Mishra of Clearstone Venture Partners.

During a July 24 morning panel titled “Bottom of the Pyramid Innovation,” four innovators showcased health products aimed at the low-income market in India.

Krista Donaldson, chief executive officer of D-Rev, demonstrated the Jaipur Knee, an innovative, low-cost prosthetic based on the Jaipur Foot, which helps amputees to walk, squat and bend their knees. The Jaipur Knee – also known as the ReMotion Knee – is being launched in India now, said Donaldson, adding: “There is a huge population of people living on $4 a day that are currently using bamboo staffs to walk.”

Donaldson described the Jaipur Knee as “a world-class product. We believe that – regardless of your income – you deserve a high-quality product.”

Armand Neukermans, U.S. resident director of the Jaipur Foot project, said: “I have never had a product that worked so well.” Neukermans connected the Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti – which has fitted 1.3 million amputees with the Jaipur Foot free of charge – with Stanford University, which has developed the Jaipur Knee and Hand.

Donaldson also highlighted “Brilliance,” a low-cost phototherapy device to treat jaundice in newborn babies. Approximately three out of five babies in the developing world suffer from some degree of jaundice; the illness is the number one cause of hospitalization for newborns but can effectively be treated with phototherapy. In typical phototherapy treatment, a baby lies in a bassinet and is exposed to fluorescent light which changes the form of bilirubin – excessive levels of bilirubin cause jaundice – into a form that can be excreted in urine or stool.

In India, most of the phototherapy devices surveyed by Stanford did not meet the American Association of Pediatrics standards, largely because the devices required fluorescent bulbs, which need changing every four months but are costly and difficult to purchase in the developing world.

D-Rev’s “Brilliance” uses LED tubes which last 60 times longer than CFLs, thus needing to be changed about every 10 years.

Raghu Dharmaraju, chief operating officer of Embrace Innovations, demonstrated the Embrace Warmer, designed to help hypothermic infants who are born prematurely or with low birth weight. The Embrace Warmer – which looks like a school backpack – is heated with a sheet of special wax, which is then placed at the bottom of the backpack. The baby is then placed in the insulated, heated backpack.

Embrace Innovations has distributed a few thousand of the low-cost incubator to hospitals in 14 Indian states.

“We have helped 150,000 babies across the world,” said Dharmaraju. “We are bringing this technology into the hands of mothers and health care workers,” he said, noting that the simple device does not require skilled staff. The Indian government is Embrace Innovations’ largest customer, said Dharmaraju, adding: “It gives me a high to see a baby using this product.”

Manu Prakash of Stanford University demonstrated the “foldscope,” a 50 cent folded-paper and lens microscope which can be used to detect certain diseases, including leishmaniasis, schistosomiasis and malaria. Nearly 10,000 foldscopes have been distributed throughout the developing world and Prakash Labs has posted a template online so that others can replicate the foldscope.

“The bottom of the pyramid is not about giving things away,” said Neukermans. “It is about making communities self-sufficient.”

A July 25 morning keynote address was delivered by Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos, Inc., which offers medical lab tests at a very low cost. Holmes, now 31, dropped out of Stanford University at 19 to develop Theranos, which uses a finger-stick device to conduct its tests.

Costs for tests run from $3 for a cholesterol check to $35 for a fertility test. Holmes said the tests can be used for early detection of diseases including cardiovascular issues, diabetes and cancer.

“I felt an increased sense of injustice when I saw someone die of cancer; when someone was asked to give blood when his veins had already collapsed,” said Holmes, who received a standing ovation both before and after her keynote talk. “People who could never get care before are now getting it,” she said, recalling a pregnant woman without insurance who had been to many labs before coming to Theranos. “Her face completely changed when she learned that our cost for a lab test would be less than a meal.”

“We are providing actionable information that can influence societal development; a system where everyone has access to information before a disease progresses,” said Holmes.

Theranos, which started out in Holmes’ basement, now operates primarily in Arizona and will soon have testing facilities in Palo Alto, Calif., and Pennsylvania.

“This is a global mission,” said Holmes, noting that India was very much on the company’s pipeline for expansion.

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