Bangalore: Philips Electronics India Ltd is developing microscope-based portable diagnostic kits for rural health care workers that can be used to test for tuberculosis (TB) and malaria in an attempt to address a significant gap in the country's health care programme.
According to the annual global tuberculosis control report released by the World Health Organization (WHO), India has the worst record in detecting tuberculosis. And it detects a fair number of cases of the disease every year: India accounts for one-fifth (or 1.9 million) of the new tuberculosis cases reported around the world every year, the report said.
According to Philips, India also detects two million cases of malaria every year.
"Since most of the undetected cases could be due to inaccessibility to timely diagnosis, Philips has chosen to work in this area, leveraging our expertise in optic instrumentation," says Srinivas Gutta, senior director, Philips Research, India.
There are rapid diagnostic testing devices for malaria available in the market, but Gutta claims the Philips product will be able to test for both tuberculosis and malaria, and can analyse any body fluid— blood, urine, or saliva. "In all probability it will be a palm-top device complete with a scanner, reader, microscope and display unit," he adds.
Sujay Prasad, director of Anand Diagnostic Laboratory, says the success of this, and any other device targeting the rural market, will depend on cost. "Already a handful of branded portable diagnostic kits (for malaria) are available in rural India and generally cost around Rs100. I don't know exactly what Philips is researching, but cost per test should not exceed Rs50 for it to be viable."
Gutta says it is too early to comment on the price. "A medical microscope costs anywhere around €300-500 (Rs18,720-31,200); we are positive that our price (for the portable device) will be a fraction of this."
Scientists, software professionals and a handful of medical professionals at the Bangalore-based Philips Innovation Campus are working on several other health care solutions for developing countries.
One of these is the chronic disease management system (CDS) for cardiovascular conditions, which can act as an assisted diagnosis system for a non-specialist doctor.
"We saw a huge opportunity in rural segment where there is a lack of specialist doctors for chronic ailments such as a stroke or heart attack," says Gutta. "The idea behind CDS is how to equip a rural doctor or a general physician, (a non-heart specialist) to attend to a heart patient. The system will enable such a doctor to follow key steps in dealing with some common heart conditions," he adds.
Philips says both products are still in the development phase and declined to give an exact date for their launch.