According to The Lancelet, somewhere between 5 and 10 million people in the world need dialysis right now for terminal kidney failure, but only 2.5 million have access to it, mostly due to cost – the rest will die an unpleasant death. The news gets worse: the number of people on dialysis is set to rise to 5 million by the year 2030, and most of the increase will be in developing countries.
A year on dialysis costs about US$90 000 per person in the USA, and many thousands of dollars in low-income countries—an unaﬀordable price in places where the annual health spend might be just a few hundred dollars per citizen.
The first dialysis machine was invented in 1943 and apparently since that time not much has changed in the design of it nor were there any real attempts at making the machine more accessible and affordable. And a dialysis machine these days can cost more than $10 000 each. And top of it these dialysis machines need to be attached to elaborate water purification systems based on reverse osmosis which also often cost at least $10 000 again. And of course the way the machines work are that most of the time the dialysis machine can only be used in a hospital setting or in homes that have all the needed infrastructure.
To truly make a dialysis machine accessible and affordable that can also be used in infrastructure poor areas, three of the leading players in global kidney health have joined together to create a world-wide competition, with a prize of US$100,000, to design the world’s first truly affordable dialysis machine. The prize is sponsored by The George Institute, the International Society of Nephrology and the Asian Pacific Society of Nephrology with the support of the Farrell Family Foundation.
The Affordable Dialysis Prize encouraged inventors around the world to develop an innovative dialysis system which works just as well as a conventional approach, but runs off solar power, can purify water from any source, has low running costs and can be sold for less than US$ 1000.
The winning design by engineer Vincent Garvey is so compact it can fit into a small suitcase, and uses a standard solar panel to power a highly efficient, miniature distiller capable of producing pure water from any source.
So, how does the winning design work? According to the Prize distributor:
Vincent Garvey’s winning dialysis system recognises the critical barrier to affordable dialysis is the lack of cheap, sterile water in countries where the electricity supply is unreliable and water sources may be contaminated. Using a standard solar panel, it heats water taken from any local source to make steam, which is used not only to sterilise the water but also to fill empty peritoneal dialysis (PD) bags under sterile conditions. PD is potentially much cheaper than haemodialysis, but in poor countries the cost of transporting thousands of foreign manufactured two litre bags of PD fluid to remote locations can make it prohibitive.
The winning entry will be just as useful for short term dialysis for acute kidney failure, supporting children and young adults whose kidneys have stopped working temporarily due to infection or dehydration, and for whom just a few days of dialysis can be lifesaving. The design also offers detailed plans on how the system could be used for affordable haemodialysis, the more common type of dialysis.
A truly wonderful frugal innovation! Thank you Mr Vincent Garvey. The world needs more people like you.