Ensuring good health and wellbeing is essential for sustainable development
Tackling disease through tech
Much of the global burden of diseases can be reduced by controlling the spread of transmittable microorganisms and promoting healthy lifestyles. This can be supported by a variety of health technologies, including vaccines, medical devices, medications, protective equipment and ICT. Aluminium, copper, and zinc are just some of the metals used in the manufacturing of essential health technologies such as injectable vaccines and blood pressure monitors.
Cold chain (or immunisation supply chain) is the system used to safely store and transport vaccines within safe temperature ranges in order to maintain product quality from the moment of manufacture until the point they are administered to people. Technologies used to preserve vaccines include cold boxes, refrigerated trucks, refrigerators and vaccine carriers. Communities established in remote locations usually have no access to electricity, posing a serious obstacle to the continuity of the cold chain. Solar-powered refrigeration (or photovoltaic refrigeration units) can be an efficient and effective solution where mains electricity is unreliable but sunlight is abundant. They might be more expensive to buy and install, but running costs are considerably lower when compared to electric/compression models.
The cabinet and door of refrigerators can be made of aluminium or steel. The compressor, condenser and coils can be made of copper, aluminium, or an alloy, while tubing is usually made of copper. The addition of a solar panel and a battery further requires lithium, silicon, germanium and nickel. For injectable vaccines, hypodermic needles are usually made of stainless steel, and can be nickel-plated to prevent corrosion. The tube, that carries the vaccine, and the plunger – that pushes the fluid through the needle – can be made of glass or plastic.
As well as vaccines, copper surfaces can help fight the spread of infectious diseases. Furthermore, they can combat a serious global concern: antimicrobial resistance. Antimicrobial resistance is the ability of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites to survive drug-treatments which once were effective against them. Studies have shown that copper has strong antimicrobial properties and has effectively worked on antibiotic-resistant pathogens. Copper and copper alloys (like brass and bronze) can be used to make taps, sinks, handles, and can even be woven into pyjamas and bed sheets in combination with other materials. This is a simple and effective.
Blood pressure meters are essential medical devices used to measure systolic and diastolic pressure. They can be used to detect and prevent cardiovascular diseases as the devices indicate how blood is being pumped through the body by the heart. Solar-powered versions of a regular blood pressure monitor are ideal for low-resource settings and remote areas without access to electricity. The meters can be either manual or automatic (with a digital display), consisting of a cuff, a mechanism to inflate the cuff, and a unit that measures the pressure. In the case of a manual device, the squeeze bulb and the constricting cuff are usually made of neoprene, while the dial can be made of brass, aluminium, or plastic. The control valve is usually made of polycarbonate, brass and/or stainless steel.