Asthma patients can be a pretty fragile bunch, and in poorer countries, these people rarely have the opportunity nor purchasing power to pick up a “spacer” that actually creates an air chamber right in front of the mouth, whereby the inhaler will discharge its medicine for the patient to breathe it in easily. These devices could cost around $50 which is definitely out of reach for the destitute, but thankfully brilliant folks from Stanford University’s Design School along with the School of Medicine managed to come up with their own homebrew solution – using the origami concept to build your very own spacer out of paper. The price to pay? Less than a measly quarter.
The physicians in Health Centers, which provide nearby, free primary care to uninsured Mexicans, can recognize asthma and have access to the medication necessary to treat asthma attacks, but they lack effective, affordable devices to deliver that medication. Mexican Health Centers are stocked with asthma inhalers, which inexpensively create aerosol particles of medication, but these devices are not sufficient to deliver the medication to a child’s lungs. Successful use of an inhaler requires that a child coordinate a deep breath with discharging the inhaler. This is challenging for a young child, particularly one gasping in the midst of an asthma attack. As a result, medication does not reach the lungs but is instead absorbed in the mouth and throat, where it causes undesirable systemic side effects.
To overcome these problems, inhalers are used in combination with a device commonly called a “spacer.” A spacer is a chamber that attaches to an inhaler, captures the discharged medication and holds it until the patient inhales it. In spite of their effectiveness, these devices are unavailable in Mexican Health Centers due to their cost (~ $50 plus distribution). Using paper and a precise system of cuts and folds, we have designed a spacer that can be produced for approximately 25 cents, a cost reduction of more than 99%. Furthermore, the device can be distributed as a flat sheet to be folded into a usable form on-site, so hundreds can be sent for the cost of a stamp.
Nice to see such simple and affordable solutions being made known to the rest of the world. I sure hope this will benefit asthma patients from all over the world – after all, just because you can afford a $50 spacer doesn’t mean you can just rush out and buy one, eh? The $50 could have been donated to WorldVision to help feed a hungry kid instead…