The world’s most pressing issues need smart solutions, but that doesn’t necessarily mean high-tech.While various cutting-edge innovations, such as mind-controlled robotic body suits and microchip drug delivery, are improving the lives of people across the globe, there are also a number of equally impactful inventions with little-to-no electronics.
From a wheel-shaped water container for the developing world to a lamp powered only by gravity, these seven inventions are saving lives through simplicity.
Many women and girls around the world do not have access to basic sanitary protection — especially in parts of the developing world where periods are seen as taboo, or where the cost of sanitary pads exceed the average person’s income.
The menstrual cup is one affordable and reusable solution. The bell-shaped product, made of surgical-grade silicone, is worn inside the vagina and collects menstrual fluid. Once the cup is removed, it simply needs to be washed before reusing, providing a sustainable and safe option for women in developing countries.
We’ve seen a sharp decline in global child mortality over the past 25 years, but there’s still work to be done. According to the latest statistics from UNICEF, 17,000 children under age five die each day around the world, often due to otherwise preventable illnesses or circumstances. The region with the highest rate of child mortality is sub-Saharan Africa.
In Malawi and other African nations, some midwives have begun using a “penguin” — a plastic, bird-shaped suction device that can remove obstructions from babies’ airways immediately following birth. The simple device is a game-changer in saving children’s lives.
Approximately 750 million people around the world still don’t have access to clean drinking water, and many of those who do must travel long distances from their homes to get it. In various cultures, women and children are typically the ones tasked with collecting water, often carrying the full containers on their heads. Studies show this poses a significant risk to neck and spine injuries.
The folks behind Q Drum want to make the process safer and easier. The Q Drum is a wheel-shaped water canister that’s designed to roll while it’s easily pulled by a rope through the central hole. Traditional containers are often limited to 15 liters of water, but the Q Drum can hold 50 liters.
There are similar concepts created to help the process, such as the Hippo Water Roller. According to the International Energy Agency, more than 1.3 million people — 18% of the global population — lack access to electricity, the majority of whom rely on kerosene for lighting.
The GravityLight offers a safer alternative, offering light through energy generated by the weight of a small bag filled with rocks, sand or soil. User trials are still being conducted in the field, but the GravityLight is expected commercially later in 2015.
Postpartum hemorrhage (PPH), also known as postpartum bleeding, is the leading cause of maternal mortality in the world, according to PATH. Yet many women and their doctors don’t have access to the tools and methods needed to prevent and treat it.
The uterine balloon tamponade (UBT) is an effective method of treating PPH, saving countless women’s lives. However, a professional-grade UBT can be extremely expensive. It can cost more than $400 in the U.S., for example.
Massachusetts General Hospital’s Division of Global Health and Human Rights has created a $5 version of the UBT, which can be assembled using readily available materials in developing countries: a condom tied to a catheter, inflated with clean water through a syringe and a one-way valve.
According to USAID, this isn’t the first homemade UTB, but it’s one of the most easy-to-use innovations that includes a pictorial checklist, which is helpful for illiterate health workers.
More than 4 million people — mostly women and children — die every year from from health problems associated with inhaling carbon monoxide or pollutants from stoves that burn wood, biomass or coal. But the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves and the companies it partners with are advocating for cleaner alternatives, which can save lives and advance gender equality (women can use the money normally spent on fuel to pursue other opportunities).
The ACE 1 (in the video above), from African Clean Energy, is a popular, relatively inexpensive model that produces fewer emissions. Other innovative cookstoves include EcoZoom’s Zoom Jet and the K2 cookstove, created by two students at the University of California, Berkeley.
Perhaps the most high-tech innovation on this list, Uncharted Play‘s SOCCKET ball converts the kinetic energy generated from play to electric energy to power an energy-efficient, 3-LED lamp, providing much-needed light and power to those who need it.
For every SOCCKET purchased, Uncharted Play gives a child in the developing world access to its energy-generating play products.