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4th October 2014

Your smartphone may be your pocket doctor but what about its dumber brother?

Your smartphone can show your temperature, heart rate and sleeping patterns. Soon it could even tell you if you have the flu or give you an eye exam. But what about the good old unbreakable ‘dumb’ phones?

6 out of the 7 billion people on the planet have access to mobile phones (side thought: this is more than those having access to functioning toilets). And although smartphones are inevitably on the rise, feature (or ‘dumb’) phones are still the most widely used types of mobiles on global levels.

Though they’re not capable of checking your vitals on their own, with a little help from a hand-held device regular phones can be integrated into healthcare just as good.

Harvard researchers came up with just that: a hand-held device that can check for malaria, monitor blood sugar or check water to make sure it’s safe. Sure, it’s got all the features to make it fit in low-resource settings. It costs 25 USD, it’s easy to use, light, and sturdy. But what’s the best part?

It was created in such a way that it can communicate with feature phones, making it possible for doctors to receive data. In return they can reply to patients, send the data to officials to track outbreaks, or help out researchers.

Others went after this goldmine before: SMSs reminding patients to take their medications or to monitor child immunization have been in use for a while. But this is the first device that can check for diseases and immediately send data to feature phones making remote monitoring and access to healthcare as easy as can be.

The device is now being tested in the field in India, where the researchers have started a conversation with the government to have the device incorporate in the public health programme.

“I think there’s a real need, and I think this is a real solution.” said Alex Nemiroski, one of the researchers involved in the project.

I think he’s right.

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