Ensuring good health and wellbeing is essential for sustainable development
Tech-based solutions for child and maternal mortality
The global burden of maternal and child mortality can be reduced by adequate care, with the vast majority of such deaths being preventable, if facilitated by medical technologies handled by skilled professionals. Essential health tools used to diagnose and treat disorders in pregnancy and hypothermia in infants include ultrasounds, thermometers, and infant warmers – all of which rely on metals such as iron, aluminium, zinc, nickel and copper.
Ultrasound is an imaging technique that enables the visualisation of internal body structures. It uses sound waves to generate images, also known as sonograms, by sending pulses of ultrasound into the tissue. Different tissues reflect different degrees of sound, with these varying echoes recorded and displayed as an image to the operator. Medical ultrasound is a helpful tool used to diagnose a wide range of conditions, for both the mother and the baby. These include placenta previa, abruption, incomplete abortion, causes of bleeding, multiple gestations, and ectopic pregnancies. A basic ultrasound comprises a transducer probe, CPU, pulse controls, LED display, a keyboard, a disk storage device and a printer. The probes used to send the pulses into the tissue contain piezoelectric crystal, while the CPU and keyboard contain metals such as gold, silver, platinum, palladium, copper, nickel, tantalum, cobalt and aluminium. The LED display also contains many elements, including arsenic, barite, bauxite, boron, copper, gallium, indium, and lead.
A body temperature below 36.5°C in newborns is classified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as within the gradation of hypothermia – a condition that can lead to pathologies such as infections and respiratory distress. Infant warmers are medical devices used to keep the body temperature of babies stable and within the healthy band of 36.5 to 37.5°C. These technologies can range from high-cost full-featured incubators (equipped with automated temperature and humidity control, vital signs monitor, etc.) to inexpensive radiant warmers (equipped with a heat lamp and an electric blanket). NeoNurture is an incubator-type infant warmer with a twist: it is entirely made of repurposed car parts. Specially designed for low-resource settings, the incubator is equipped with a halogen-sealed beam headlight to provide warmth, a dashboard fan for convective heating, a signal light reused as an alarm, and a motorcycle battery for energy storage. Materials found in the incubator include silicon, lithium, cobalt, aluminium, and nickel.
A thermometer is a vital technology for diagnosing hypothermia. Traditionally, thermometers used to consist simply of a vacuum-sealed glass with engraved scale marks indicating temperature range, and mercury, which would expand or contract according to ambient temperature. Since mercury is highly poisonous, it has been replaced by non-toxic alcohol, which not only is safer but also has larger coefficient expansion. Digital (or electronic) thermometers are often used in medicine, featuring an LCD display that allows higher level of precision in readings. The resistance temperature detector (RTD), found in digital thermometers, measures temperature based on electrical resistance of metals. A typical material used in the wire windings is platinum, due to its fast response and accuracy – but they can also be made of copper or nickel.