50 Breakthrough Technologies for Combating Global Poverty


Dr. Shashi Buluswar holds up a kernel of corn.

Event: 50 Breakthrough Technologies for Combating Global Poverty
Date: Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Speaker: Dr. Shashi Buluswar, Executive Director, LBNL Institute for Globally Transformative Technologies & Lecturer at Berkeley-Haas

Shashi Buluswar held up a kernel of corn between his fingers for his audience to see.

The growth of staple crops like corn, he explained, could not have been possible without the chemical products of fertilizer factories – one of the many essential technologies that impoverished countries need to tackle their economic challenges, but currently lack. In his lecture, Buluswar spoke about how these technologies could dramatically transform the lives of the people in countries like Kenya, Congo, India, and Pakistan. Here were some of the highlights:

Storage of vaccines: The widespread existence of preventable diseases in impoverished countries is not because the countries don’t have access to vaccines – they have no means to correctly store the vaccines. To maintain their potency, vaccines must be stored at 2-8 degrees Celsius, but many countries do not have the technology for proper refrigeration. Furthermore, the condition of the roads and other infrastructures in those countries do not allow for speedy delivery of the vials. By the time the vaccines are given, they have lost their effect. Thus, having portable refrigerators would enable the vials to be kept at the appropriate temperature range while transporting them to and from medical facilities.

ImpactMBA 50 Tech tweetWe need more than just solar panels: When asked which household appliances they most wanted in their homes, people have consistently answered:

1. television

2. refrigerator

Appliances like these would drastically improve the people’s standard of living. However, not only are the appliances expensive to purchase, owning them would dramatically increase the electricity bill, as the appliances operate on high amounts of energy. “Without things like the fridge,” Buluswar said, “how can we celebrate the fact that people have a couple of lights and a cellphone?” He emphasized that either the cost of electricity must go down or appliances must become more energy efficient.

View the full presentation at http://bit.ly/1sr7Qne

DNA tests for tuberculosis: Many countries in Southeast Asia, the epicenter of the global tuberculosis problem, are still using microscope observations of tuberculosis strains in order to identify the bacteria – an outdated and unsanitary method of diagnosis, as the equipment can get easily contaminated. Additionally, in the face of growing drug resistance, microscopes fail to discriminate which strains of the tuberculosis bacteria are drug-sensitive and which are not. An alternative and superior method of diagnosis would be DNA tests conducted using a modified version of a pocket-sized device called the GeneChip. The device would recognize exactly which strain of tuberculosis so the patient could receive the accurate medical prescription.

Throughout his explanation of these essential technologies, however, Buluswar stressed that technology alone could not bring about the major change that the countries need to combat poverty. It is only one of the many components to the solution, which includes institutional measures as well as people who understand that the remedy is not about “being the hero,” but about recognizing the complexity of the global problem.

“Technology is necessary,” Buluswar said, “but never sufficient.”

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