COVID-19 Newsletter

Week 1 (4.6.2020)

Ventilator Innovation

Our work is more important than ever in light of this outbreak, especially as average people come to realize that access to medical devices and equipment are vital to the functionality of the healthcare system. This type of bottleneck in resources is typical in Ethiopia where we work- we have seen on trips that they reuse PPE all the time because it is in such short supply. High-income countries are now facing the same problems, creating a shock to a system that isn’t used to this type of severe limitation. But just like we see on all our trips, that lack of resources under dire circumstances can create some really cool innovations, with uber-expensive med tech being prototyped and made in simpler versions at a fraction of the cost. Tons of examples of this type of innovation have sprung up very quickly, here are a few worth looking at: 

MIT-based team works on rapid deployment of open-source, low-cost ventilator

Innovative ventilator device developed by Prisma Health to quickly increase ventilator capacity for COVID-19 patients – Prisma Health – Upstate

COVID-19 in the African Region 

This start-up in Nigeria, called Lifebank, has started a website for hospitals and clinics to register their functional medical equipment during the outbreak, allowing resources to be allocated more effectively throughout the outbreak. Another Nigerian company, hotelsng has partnered with a number of hotels to offer sites for self-quarantine with full sanitation procedures and extremely low cost to guests, allowing people a place to stay if they don’t want to infect their family. The situation in various countries though can be very different. In some ways, the African continent is more prepared to handle a pandemic, but in others at an extreme disadvantage. The Lancet published a really interesting article discussing the preparedness of African countries a few days ago. Dr. Richard Wamai spoke with us on his thoughts, and agrees that there are advantages and disadvantages. Many countries locked their borders tightly early on. In addition, many countries have experience dealing with epidemics, it is a daily occurance, not some drastic new threat to their systems which are already stretched extremely thin. Some countries have outbreak centers which allow patients to remain separate from normal hospital operations so that hospitals aren’t further overwhelmed. This disease also seems to be much more deadly to older populations- and while our mean age in the US is 38.2, it is much younger in many African countries (Ethiopia, for instance, is only 19.5 years mean age). The population distribution is skewed much younger which may have some effect. 

In Ethiopia Specifically 

Ethiopia has implemented a lot of strong responses to COVID-19, but one in the Western Oromia region they are severely failing some citizens as they refuse to lift communication restrictions as they deal with a rebel force in the region. This leaves some of their most vulnerable citizens in the dark about public health concerns. Due to concerns about the response in Ethiopia, the World Bank is actually stepping in to provide support to the country and its health industry to help manage the outbreak. Our partners at SPHMMC have actually been really active on their social media posting about how to prevent the spread of disease (cool that we can see that all the way from the US). If you are interested in what they are doing more, check out their FaceBook page. 

What’s it like in a Boston Emergency Room

When I first started working as an ER tech at Brigham and Women’s Hospital during my fall 2019 co-op, I would’ve never imagined that 9 months later I’d be working alongside so many incredible nurses, doctors, transport and environmental services personnel, security and fellow techs to fight an actual pandemic. From the moment I set foot in the hospital, things are so much different from just a couple weeks ago. I am required to wear ONE mask that I’m given at the beginning of my 8 or 12 hour shift. I spend half of my shifts donning and doffing nurses’ and physicians’ PPE and giving them the all clear before they can enter or exit a room. I have one N95 that I have to bring with me to all shifts in case a COVID patient starts coding and I have to do compressions. We’ve almost completely run out of sanitizing wipes in the ED so we’ve resorted to coating a bleach coated towel to wipe our eye protection after each patient. 

Despite all these changes and challenges I’m amazed by all of the support that our emergency department has received over the past couple weeks. As one of the employees that mans the COVID Tent that lies right in front of the ED entrance, I get to be the one who accepts some of the donations that people bring to our door. I’ve gotten bags full of surgical caps and masks that Boston residents made by hand to show their support. Places like Shake Shack, Cafe Landwer, and Dunkin Donuts donate meals and coffee on a daily basis. Entire research institutions have paused their work to focus on how they can help us and our patients during this pandemic. Just the other day I saw a number of my coworkers walking around with face shields that were designed and 3D printed by MIT. It’s these little things like the free food or hand made surgical caps that I know keeps all healthcare workers including myself going during what seems like a bad day that just won’t end. – Joe Iskander 🙂

Week 2 (4.13.2020)

Ethiopia Update

On April 8th, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared a state of emergency in the country for five months and warned of “grave legal measures” against anyone who undermines the efforts to mitigate the coronavirus’ effect on the country. Ethiopia has already closed schools, banned public gatherings, and required most employees to work from homes. However, this official declaration gives the federal government more authority and ability to work with regional governments. Ethiopia reported 52 cases and 2 deaths at the time of the declaration. In addition, the electoral board announced the postponement of parliamentary elections that were scheduled for August in preparation of the catastrophic effects of the virus that are expected in the coming months. 

Ethiopian airlines, Africa’s largest airline, is also set to start furloughing it’s workers, forcing them to agree to three months without payment. 

In addition, last week French physicians proposed vaccine trials for COVID-19 in the African region. This prompted justifiable outrage from many people, especially as trust in science is so low in the African region already from decades of colonial era structural racism which have steadily eaten away at the trust in research trials. Click here to read more about this important issue. 

A Note From Addis

Someone from one of Kerry’s classes is in Ethiopia right now, in Addis. When asked about what her impressions have been so far she said: 

So if you travel into Addis, whether it is domestic or international travel, the country forces you to self-quarantine at a hotel for 2 weeks. If you cannot afford to, they have designated certain public schools and areas where individuals can self-quarantine. The country isn’t really practicing social distancing as they should. I still see people outside and not making it their priority to stay at home/indoors. Ethiopia just declared a state of emergency this morning, but has been hesitant to declare a shelter in place due to the fact that the majority of the country is unable to practice social/physical distancing. Most people in Ethiopia live and rely on extremely low day-to-day wages and others simply just do not have a home to be able to shelter in place. There are currently only 55 cases, and 2 reported deaths, but the country is taking many precautionary measures to prevent and contain the spread of COVID-19.” 

3D Printing Efforts

Hospital resources are depleting as a result of the exponential influx of COVID 19 patients. Masks, in particular, are the main form of protection for nurses and doctors when they are treating patients. However, due to the scarce number of masks, hospital staff have been forced to use the same mask while tending to different patients. Many have turned to using the same mask for the entire day or even multiple days, putting themselves and others at greater risk. The race to create alternatives to the gold standard N95 mask produced by 3M has been going on for weeks now. N95 masks consist of an absorbent layer to absorb any moisture coming from its user’s mouth, a filter layer, and a hydrophobic layer to whisk off droplets. Within a week of the virus reaching the U.S., dozens of groups have designed and prototyped different mask models. Large companies are offering their resources to upscale production of 3D printed masks. STL files are publicly available so that designs can be printed anywhere in the world. Below are links to various mask designs that are open-sourced and can be 3D printed:

This article summarizes all the 3D printing efforts being made, not just masks. For example, people have made attachments that hospital staff can attach to their surgical masks in order to make them more comfortable. They have to wear their masks for 12+ hour shifts and are left with red marks on their faces due to the constricting nature of the masks. Furthermore, 3D printed face shields have been designed to be worn as extra protection in addition to wearing masks. This is the NIH’s 3D Print Exchange where the files for masks, mask support attachments, and face shields can be found. 

Lastly, on April 3rd, the CDC announced its recommendation for everyone to be wearing masks, even if they are cloth masks. Here are instructions to sew your own mask with a pocket to replace the filter.

Antibody Titer

It is estimated that nearly 25% of the COVID-19 patients experience no symptoms. This can make it extremely difficult to trace and maintain the disease because people are unknowingly spreading it. As a result, the CDC recommends for everyone to be wearing a face covering to prevent people from spreading it throughout their community. In addition to this, 

the US developed an antibody titer to test patients for the COVID-19 antibodies for people who were exposed to the virus but experienced little to no symptoms. This test would indicate how much of the community is already immune to the disease and contribute to improving the predictions and the future of the disease. This test will help scientists understand the longevity of the antibodies which will help with understanding the vaccine. The FDA approved the first COVID-19 antibody titer on April 3rd. Hopefully this can become more available in the upcoming months and provide more information about the disease. It is believed that the titer will be prioritized for essentials works especially healthcare workers so workers who have the immunity to the disease can work with COVID-19 patients. 

To learn more about the titer:

To learn where you can get tested:

Week 3 (4.20.2020)

iMASC (Injection Molded Autoclavable Sterilizable Conformable System)

“I am currently on co-op at the Traverso Lab through Brigham and Women’s Hospital and MIT. The lab primarily focuses on drug delivery systems, such as implants. However, since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, we have shifted our focus to designing reusable masks with interchangeable filters. The first step was to examine the N95 mask, which is currently the best mask to protect oneself from the virus. I took apart a N95 mask that we had on hand and cross checked it with its spec sheet. The inner layer must be absorbent to collect moisture from the user’s mouth, whereas the filter layer must be hydrophobic to prevent droplets from coming in. We sourced many different fabrics and found that air conditioner filters are very similar in composition. During my last week in person at the lab, I laser cut the material to make some quick and dirty masks. 

From this first pass, we realized that the design would be too time consuming to mass produce. Around this time, the idea of 3D printed masks blew up and a big-name company reached out to us offering to manufacture our masks with their resources. We then looked into injection molding because it was quick and cheap. In addition, some thermoplastics can be autoclaved so that the mask could be used again. Because the filter becomes soiled easily, we wanted the filter component to be a consumable. With these design considerations, we designed a model that has been fit tested on 20 Brigham and Women’s Hospital employees. Based on quantitative and qualitative feedback, we made some design alterations and have this current model. 

We are testing the design with NIOSH protocols to ensure that it is equivalent or even better in performance than N95s. However, the project needs funding so that the masks can be used in hospitals as soon as possible. Here is the website with more information about iMASC and a link to donate! Thank you and stay safe everyone!” -Caitlynn Tov 

CRISPR based detection of SARS-CoV-2 

A recent publication in Nature from Mammoth Biosciences and UCSF reported the development and validation of CRISPR-Cas12-based assay to detect SARS-CoV-2 from patients RNA called SARS-CoV-2 DNA Endonuclease-Targeted CRISPE Trans Reporter (DETECTR). Their platform provides a visual and faster alternative with a 95% positive predictive agreement and 100% negative predictive agreement. This assay is comparable to the qRT-PCR assay currently used and uses routine protocols and commercially available reagents which do not required complex laboratory infrastructure. Although it has potential limitations as the other tests in regards to the availability of the personal protective equipment, extraction kits, and reagents. Their DETECTR technology can be reconfigured within a few days SARS-CoV-2. Table 1 below further compares the current test implemented by the CDC and the DETECTR technology. The RNA extraction from the patient can be used in the DETECTR technology which uses loop mediated preamplification(LAMP) and Cas12-based detection for E gene(envelope), N gene(nucleoprotein), and RNase P which is visualized by a fluorescent reader or lateral flow strip. 

For further information:

Week 4 (4.27.2020) – fun activities to do at home!

Online games to play/activities to do with friends while video chatting

Running out of stuff to say to your friends since everyone is kind of scattered and no one is really leaving their house to do interesting things? Play a game together! Here’s a few good ones: 

Super simple recipe ideas

Fun things to do with your time

  • Learn how to crochet
  • Make a collage out of magazine or newspaper cuttings 
  • Embroider designs to hang up, or put on your clothes 
  • Watercolor or other painting 
  • Make a meal entirely of tiny foods- feel like a giant! 
  • Have some string and a tree branch? Learn how to do basic macrame to spruce up your space! 
  • Listen to new podcasts- some I’m listening to right now are ‘Terrible, thanks for asking’, ‘Throughline’, ‘Harvard Chan: This week in public health’, ‘Cooler Earth’, ‘How I Built This with Guy Raz’
  • Move all the furniture around in your bedroom if you’re feeling sick of being stuck inside. Makes it feel like a new place! 
  • Take this time to self-reflect. Everyone’s probably taken this quiz already, but you can take it again and compare your results with your friends!
  • Check out this list from lifehack on fun things to do
  • Check out Instructables for some fun crafts, recipes, and cool gadgets to make while you are at home

Week 5 (5.11.2020)

Ethiopia Updates

Ethiopia definitely has an interesting combination of responses to the outbreak. As someone completely and utterly unqualified to discuss their response, feel free to look more into everything written here! There have been ups and downs, as with the response of any country. Namely, the new Minister of Health, Lia Tadesse (we met her!), is trying to utilize a women-led workforce to monitor remote areas and do home check-ins for early screening of the disease. The MOH has also released a series of training courses to help prepare and educate health professionals on the response. Ethiopia has also restarted diplomatic relations with neighboring Eritrea even amidst this outbreak. On the other side of the coin, new laws implemented during the  State of Emergency in Ethiopia which aim to curb the spread of misinformation may be curbing the right to free speech in the country. Human Rights Watch alleges this is being used as a tool for repression, with several activists facing government reaction, without a formal sentence against them. The Ethiopian economy, which since 2004 has been one of the fastest growing economies in the world, is facing severe repercussions from the virus. The International Monetary Fund has approved a huge stimulus to provide emergency assistance to the country at this time.

Why Are Some States Opening? 

I mean, mostly states are opening over fears of the lasting economic impacts of this virus. Valid fears. But does that justify the reopening of over 30 states, most of which do not meet guidelines set forth by neither the Trump Administration, or the WHO? Up to you. The WHO suggests that states should not reopen until 10% of tests come back negative– this is the benchmark for the amount of testing to be done to ensure that most populations are covered. They should also not re-open until contact tracing for that positive 10% can be ensured. According to the NYT, “The White House said states should have a ‘downward trajectory’ of cases over a 14-day period before reopening. But most of the states reopening have actually had an increase of daily average cases in the past two weeks.” Read more about how these plans to open may backfire rapidly here

MIT Hackathon 

Erika and Kerry participated in the MIT Covid-19 Challenge: Africa takes on Covid-19. With around 1500 participants from around the world, a 3 day hackathon style event took place to try and solve pressing issues in the African region (nearly 50% of participants were from an African country). Kerry worked on Track A: Bringing patient samples to labs, while Erika worked on Track C: Empowering Health Workers. 

Kerry’s team worked on a solution called PathPort, which uses 3D printers to repurpose vaccine delivery cold boxes for infectious patient sample transport. We had a lot of fun working with people around the globe to try and come up with a solution, and are trying to use the prize money and resources provided to actually do implementation on the project. 

Erika’s team worked on a solution to provide front line workers with access to PPE by improving the current medical supply chain to increase access to PPE. This project was a great idea but a very large scale problem to tackle in one weekend! She worked with people from Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Canada, and the United States which made it very interesting to hear different perspectives.

Capstone Updates 

Bioengineering capstone is going ~International~ (sort of). The group, including some IGH members, is working on a project identified during the last needs assessment in Ethiopia. We are trying to develop a wireless pulse-ox with basic telemetry capabilities to be used in our partner hospital, as they act as the ‘sponsor’ for the project. The idea is that the design will be made entirely from materials that are easily sourced in Ethiopia, so they can produce them there! We pitched three other projects to the other capstone groups, but unfortunately none were picked up. 

The Race for a Vaccine!

Despite the reopening of cities and decreased case numbers, our greatest hope for ending the pandemic and things returning to normal is a vaccine. The Mayo Clinic has highlighted 3 vaccine development challenges from previous SARS vaccine research. First, most of the vaccines for SARS improved survival in animal models, but did not prevent infection. Some vaccines also caused lung complications. Even though we are rushing to find a vaccine, it is important that they are thoroughly evaluated. Secondly, a small fraction of people have reported re-infection, so the vaccine should provide long-term infection protection. The yellow fever vaccine offers protection for a lifetime. Lastly, younger people typically respond better to vaccines, but it seems that SARS-CoV-2 targets older people. Therefore, the vaccine must ideally work for an older age group. 

Nature illustrated the variety of approaches scientists are taking to develop the vaccine. Live vaccines, such as the chickenpox vaccine, use a weakened form of the virus to prompt an immune response without causing the disease. Inactivated vaccines, such as the flu shot, use an inactive form of the virus to similarly induce an immune response without infection. These vaccines often need multiple doses or boosters to provide long-term protection. Genetically engineered vaccines, which use genetically engineered RNA or DNA for making copies of the S protein, are more novel and none have been licensed for human use. 

Below is a list of companies pulling ahead in the race:

Moderna – mRNA vaccine and first U.S. candidate cleared by FDA to enter Phase 2 of testing. They are expected to enter Phase 3 by early summer.

Pfizer – mRNA vaccine and began testing in humans last Monday. 

Oxford University Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Grouprecombinant viral vector vaccine and is expected to be tested on over 6,000 people by the end of May for Phase 1 of testing. 

Mental Health Resources

Need more support navigating the COVID-19 crisis and the way it has affected your mental health? There are tons of resources available to help, though sometimes it can be difficult to find them all. Here is a short list of some resources and guides to navigating and prioritizing your mental health from at home: 

Overall, if you, or someone you care about, are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or others:

Week 6 (5.25.2020)

African Influencers 

One impact of the current crisis is that I am definitely spending way too much time on social media. If anyone else is experiencing the same thing- never fear, you can broaden your horizons and learn about new cultures just by scrolling through your feed! Learn some new recipes and dances from: 

  • Sherrie Silver (@Sherriesilver)- On Instagram and YouTube, Sherrie is a choreographer (she did the choreography for This is America by Childish Gamino) and she posts a lot of fun ‘dance and cook videos’ where she introduces different African dishes! 
  • Shem (@McShemComedian)- on YouTube and TikTok, Shem is a nigerian comedian and one of the first to utilize the growing TikTok platform. 
  • Valerie Harris (@brownskinval)- on Instagram and TikTok, she posts dance challenges to afro beats as well as some comedy content. 
  • Lola (Chef Lola’s Kitchen)- on YouTube, she posts a bunch of cooking content which often features African dishes from her Nigerian heritage. 
  • Follow the #tiktokethiopia on TikTok to see new content from creators near our partners. 

Coronavirus Testing 101

Currently, there are two kinds of tests available for COVID-19 according to the CDC. The first is viral tests, which check nasal or saliva samples by detecting the virus’ genetic code. Also known as nucleic acid-based tests, this test relies on transcription polymerase chain reaction, or RT-PCR. PCR is used to copy and amplify any segments of viral genetic code found in the sample by adding reagents and enzymes, as well as thermal cycling (increasing and decreasing the temperature of the mixture). These steps make it easier for the software to detect the virus. With the increased research efforts, there are now point-of-care viral tests where results may be available within the hour. However, most viral tests are typically sent to a laboratory to analyze and results may take a couple days to process.

Antibody blood tests have also been made available to show if you have had a previous infection. It is important to note that it takes 1-3 weeks after infection to make antibodies, so the test does not tell you if you are currently infected. Immunoassays are used to detect proteins produced either by the virus itself, or by the body’s immune system in response to the virus. If positive, antibodies in the blood will bind to antigens on the test or viral antigens will bind to the antibodies on the test. 

Here is a link for community-based testing sites. 

The FDA recently announced its authorization of at-home nasal swab and saliva sample collection. Patients can mail their nasal samples to LabCorp for testing, and the Pixel by LabCorp COVID-19 Test home collection kits should be available for consumers in most states. The saliva test, on the other hand, remains prescription only and is sent to Rutgers Clinical Genomics Laboratory for testing. 

CVS is rolling out a new method of testing with drive through COVID-19 testing being offered in 350 trial locations across the country. These will function by having the customer receive a swab through a dropbox, follow directives to take their own sample, and then placing the sample in a collection receptacle for testing. The goal of this new method is to expand the number of people able to receive testing while also ensuring that proper social distancing takes place. The typical cost of the test is $0, and the results are received within 2-4 days The new testing method was rolled out in 14 states on May 22nd; should the initial locations be successful, others nationwide will follow suit.

For more information on testing and locations, click here.

Knowing your options for testing is important as parts of the country reopen and people return to work. This database is a good source of information on what your insurance provider covers in relation to the current crisis.

Reopening Boston

For the past few weeks, each state has been announcing its plan for reopening. On May 18th, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker issued a “safer-at-home” advisory, along with the plan for reopening the state. The plan is a four-phased approach, with each phase lasting at least three weeks (but may last longer based on public health data). Phase 1 includes opening places of worship, but only if social distancing can be followed. Additionally, construction and manufacturing can reopen if they follow guidelines. On June 1, non-essential office spaces in Boston can reopen at 25% of maximum capacity. Boston’s 9 pm to 6 am curfew will remain. Gov. Baker allowed beaches to reopen for Memorial Day weekend, while urging people to wear masks and practice social distancing. However, many beaches were packed last Friday. 

Vaccine Update

The race for a vaccine continues as companies and researchers around the world try to develop a safe vaccine. Cambridge-based Moderna had promising results from their Phase I trial, which was tested in 45 participants. The company plans to start Phase II trials soon, testing 600 people. Phase III trials can begin in July, in which thousands of people will be testing. Considering Phase III trials typically take one to four years to complete, creating a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine in 12 to 18 months is truly unprecedented. It’s still too early to tell if Moderna’s vaccine will be successful and approved, but the results are pretty encouraging for the time being. Johnson and Johnson has also developed a vaccine candidate and is planned to enter Phase I trials in September. Companies also have to consider how they will mass produce vaccines for billions of people, as well as deciding which countries will get the vaccine first

Week 7 (6.8.2020) – IGH’s statement on BLM

IGH Statement in Support of BLM 

Innovators for Global Health is dedicated to improving global access to healthcare through bioengineering and medical device design and innovation. As an organization, we strive to recognize that racism is a necessary consideration in the fields of medicine and public health. Many medical devices were created for specific groups of people — not all people. While our primary focus as an organization is identifying this bias as it is designed into medical devices with respect to geography or resource limitations, many medical devices are developed with a racial bias. To give a few examples: artificial intelligence algorithms used in some devices have been found to racially profile patients, mammography was designed for the breast tissues of white people, and even measurements of oxygen saturation can become less accurate as skin pigmentation increases. Like all other aspects of our society, healthcare, and even more specifically, medical device design, is a source of racial injustice. 

We also recognize the history and presence of the “white savior complex”, and the colonialist mindsets often present in American medical work in African countries. Western philanthropy in Africa has its roots in religious missionaries aiming to convert locals to Christianity, and some medical work continues to be done by missionaries looking to export their religious or cultural values. For this reason, we strive to prioritize local control and input in the implementation of our work and ensure that we exchange knowledge and resources without imposing misinformed “solutions” on societies we are not a part of. We strive to respect local culture, institutions, and humanity, and we emphasize the importance of valuing the knowledge and experience of locals on their own problems, needs, and solutions.

Innovators for Global Health stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, and condemns the murder of BIPOC folx, as well as other acts of police brutality that have killed, disabled, and traumatized countless members of the Black community. Our thoughts and prayers are with the friends and families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and all other victims of the racial injustice ingrained in our society. As our members work towards improving access to health care in Ethiopia, we must acknowledge the disparities and injustices that exist in our own communities, and not be complacent in addressing them. As a predominantly white club at a predominantly white university, we encourage our members to hold us accountable to this aim and to actively work with us to pursue it.

To continue working to foster this community of action in our members, we have provided a number of resources below. Educating yourself (and family members and friends), signing petitions, reaching out to your elected officials, making donations, protesting, and voting for candidates that advocate for the black community are a few ways to continue supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Find more ways to help here.


NPR: How Much Do We Need The Police?

The Guardian view on Black Lives Matter worldwide: a common cause

NPR: Beyond Protests: 5 More Ways To Channel Anger Into Action To Fight Racism

The Atlantic: The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates


NPR Code Switch: A Decade of Watching Black People Die

Pod Save America: “Justice for George Floyd” 

Stuff You Should Know: How The Black Panther Party Worked

1619: Just listen to this whole podcast, it is so informative. 

Books: (These are both FREE to download. Here is a list of other books about antiracism that have been highly recommended.)

Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology by Deirdre Cooper Owens 

“The foundational knowledge of American gynecology relied on the exploitation of enslaved black women’s bodies. In Medical Bondage, Cooper Owens centers the stories of black women that have been overshadowed by the “discoveries” of white male doctors who experimented on them. Baseless theories about black inferiority and higher pain tolerance still permeate medical schools today.” 

Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination by Alondra Nelson

“The Black Panther Party is most remembered for its militant action, but health care was also a major pillar of its activism. The People’s Free Medical Clinics tested for hypertension and assisted with housing and employment. Its outreach also brought attention to rampant discrimination within mainstream medicine. Nelson writes that the Black Panther Party understood health as a human right, echoing today’s fight for universal health care.”


13th – In this documentary, scholars, activists, and politicians explore how racial inequality fuels our country’s mass incarceration levels. Available to stream on Netflix or free to stream on YouTube.

Just Mercy (based on the book by Bryan Stevenson) –  This movie depicts the real-life story of lawyer Bryan Stevenson, who appealed the 1988 murder conviction of Walter McMillian, an innocent black man. Free to stream this month on YouTube.

Selma – This movie portrays Dr. King’s march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, which helped propel the Civil Rights Act of 1965 into law. Free to stream this month on YouTube.

When They See Us – Based on a true story, this series tells the story of a group of five teens from Harlem, now known as the Central Park 5, who were falsely accused of a brutal attack and rape in Central Park. Available to stream on Netflix.

Week 8 (6.22.2020)

Ethiopia Update 

Been a while since we actually filled you all in on how Ethiopia is handling the COVID pandemic! Right now, it seems as though despite a very swift initial response to the virus, the case count is beginning to tick upwards in an alarming fashion. This trend has been reflected in other African countries, and we may be seeing more cases throughout the summer. This article does a great job summarizing the initial response of the Ethiopian government- in contrast to other countries in the region, they didn’t implement a national lockdown, but rather declared a five month state of emergency. They have focused on contact tracing, educational efforts, encouraging upscaling the manufacture of essential PPE, and the pragmatic allocation of limited resources. They have been especially effective in coordinating responses between governmental agencies, and updating the public continuously. The government also worked to provide incentives for healthcare workers by providing a special life insurance policy for those in direct contact with COVID patients. Despite all of this, the last couple days have seen the largest recorded number of new cases in Ethiopia since the outbreak began, with 399 of 4,848 tests on June 20th coming back positive. This brings the case count in Ethiopia to 4,469 total, with 72 COVID related deaths. 

It is hopeful that the measures taken in Ethiopia will reduce the burden of this pandemic on our partner country, but this may be the beginning of a crucial period for the region which we will monitor closely. 

Black Bioengineers You Should Know About 

As we all work towards educating ourselves about racism in the US, it is important to acknowledge the incredible contributions of so many BIPOC bioengineers to advancements in this field. Here are a couple spotlights on black innovators in bioengineering to get started as we think about the barriers that exist in STEM, and more specifically in bioengineering: 

  • Dr. Patricia Bath invented the Laserphaco probe to remove cataracts with a laser beam. She was the first Black female doctor to receive a medical patent.
  • Dr. Shirley Jackson was the first Black woman to receive a PhD from MIT in physics, and her work helped create fiber optic cables that many medical devices utilizing optics rely upon. She is currently the President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
  • Otis Boykin invented an improved resistor which is heavily utilized in various forms today, perhaps most famously in the control unit of the pacemaker, an important biomedical device. 
  • Leonidas Harry Berry was a pioneer in endoscopy and gastroscopy, and his invention allowing the removal of stomach tissue changed the way alcoholism is both diagnosed and treated. 
  • George Edward Alcorn Jr used his degree in atomic and molecular physics to invent an imaging X-ray spectrometer. 

These are of course only a few of the BIPOC inventors who have made huge stride in bioengineering, but if you are interested in learning more check out this article

Drone Delivery of COVID-19 Medical Supplies

Zipline is a drone delivery company that delivers much needed medical supplies to countries that may not have access to products, such as vaccines and blood. In mid-April, just as COVID-19 was circulating Africa, Zipline started collecting test samples from patients at rural health facilities in Ghana and delivering them to laboratories in Accra and Kumasi in less than an hour. Over 70,000 tests have been conducted in Ghana, which is by far the highest testing rate in Africa. Despite being based in California, Zipline has bases in the U.S., Rwanda, and Ghana, and has been delivering vital packages to hospitals up to 85 km away. The Federal Aviation Administration recently granted an emergency waiver to allow Zipline drones medical supplies and PPE to hospitals in North Carolina. 

New Evidence Suggests that Coronavirus may Attack Blood Vessels

A new hypothesis may explain strange symptoms for what was then thought to be a respiratory infection. Beginning in March, some patients experienced acute kidney failure, organ damage, and mysterious blood clots before dying from the novel coronavirus. Many believe that by attacking the endothelial cells that line blood vessels, this causes the vessels to leak and blood to clot. According to Science, “those changes in turn spark inflammation throughout the body and fuel the acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) responsible for most patient deaths.” The New England Journal of Medicine showed that the lungs of COVID-19 victims had nine times as many clots as those who died of the H1N1 flu. Furthermore, doctors have been noticing inflammatory symptoms in children and strokes in otherwise healthy young adults. This hypothesis may also explain why people with diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular diseases have an increased fatality rate from the virus, since the lining of their blood vessels are already compromised.

Week 9 (7.13.2020)

Ethiopia Update

According to the World Health Organization, as of July 12, 2020, there have been 7,560 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 127 deaths in Ethiopia. Last week, the African Development Bank approved a grant of $165.08 million to support Ethiopia’s efforts to combat the economic and health impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. This aid will assist in refurbishing 300 isolation centers, 34 treatment centers, and 100 quarantine centers. In addition, the money will go towards increasing COVID-19 testing laboratories, training 45,000 healthcare workers in COVID-19 response, and raising awareness on transmission and prevention. It is estimated that the funds will help preserve 26,000 jobs since some of the money will be apportioned to protect small businesses. According to the African Development Bank, Ethiopia’s economic growth is expected to be between 2.6 and 3.1% compared to the previously estimated 7.2% prior to the pandemic. 

People over the age of 80 are at the highest risk of death from COVID-19. However, an Ethiopian Orthodox monk named Tilahun Woldemichael recovered from the virus despite claiming to be 114 years old. His age would make him the world’s oldest man, but there is no birth certificate to confirm his age. He tested positive for the virus during a random screening in his neighborhood in Addis Ababa. He was admitted to the hospital before showing any symptoms and remained in the hospital for 14 days, where he was put on oxygen for a week. He was given antibiotics and the anti-inflammatory drug, dexamethasone before being discharged. 

COVID-19’s Effects on Racial and Ethnic Minorities

The New York Times sued the CDC for access to the numbers that confirm drastic disparities in the impact of COVID-19 on Black, Latino and Native American communities. The new data examines 640,000 infections detected in nearly 1,000 U.S. counties. Based on the data, Latino and Black residents of the United States are three times as likely to become infected as White residents. Furthermore, Black and Latino people are nearly twice as likely to die from the virus as white people. These trends are found in rural and suburban towns, as well as in some of the country’s largest cities. 

States, including California and Massachusetts, have compared the number of coronavirus cases in various communities to show the extent of how people of color have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. The LA Times reported that “Black and Latino residents disproportionately work in jobs where they must leave home to get paid as essential front-line workers. It’s the highest-paid Americans who have the greatest ability to work from home.” In addition, racism causes chronic stresses that may take a toll on one’s physical and mental health, making them more susceptible to chronic illnesses. High levels of stress and adversity can cause health disparities in rates of diabetes, obesity, cancer or lung disease. 

These patterns were found when looking at the coronavirus’ impact on the community of Chelsea, MA. Chelsea is the home of many immigrants, and about 65% of its residents are Latino. Not to mention, there are high rates of poverty and pre-existing health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and asthma. Many work in the hospital industry and other health-related fields, where there is greater exposure to the virus and they were still required to go into work during the pandemic. Experts found that Chelsea had the state’s highest rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases with a rate of about 1,900 cases per 100,000 residents, or almost 2% (April 2020). In a study of 200 random Chelsea residents, 32% of participants (excluding people who tested positive for the virus) had the antibodies for COVID-19, meaning they were infected at some point, but did not realize it–they were asymptomatic. 

Blood Plasma Research

The blood plasma of people who have recovered from the disease is rich in antibodies against the virus. As of May 2020, 16,000 patients at hundreds of U.S. hospitals have received blood plasma transfusions. Blood or plasma from recovered patients has been examined as a possible therapy since the Spanish flu of 1918. The treatment is known as convalescent plasma, and has been used against measles, influenza and Ebola. People who recover from an infection have virus-fighting antibodies in their blood. Transfusions of their plasma (the clear liquid after blood cells are removed) may assist the recipients’ immune system to fight the virus. 

The Mayo Clinic is conducting the largest study with 20,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients who received transfusions of blood plasma from people who recovered from the virus (June 2020). Early results show that only less than 1% of patients experienced severe adverse effects. However, they acknowledge that it is difficult to get conclusive results during a global pandemic.  

Lateral Flow Antibody Tests 

Antibody tests check a patient’s blood to detect if there are antibodies of a particular disease to indicate that the patient has recovered and is protected from the disease. There has been recent development in antibody tests for SARS-CoV-2 called point of care lateral flow antibody tests. The point of care lateral flow antibody tests allows patients to receive their results within 15 minutes. A few drops of blood are placed on the sample well and then a buffer is added to have the sample run through the membrane. The antibodies collect and cluster at the different lines to indicate whether they are positive. These antibody tests have already been in use in local communities around the world to predict the total amount of people infected with SARS-CoV-2. It is important to test communities to further understand the spread of COVID-19. It has been mentioned that the spread of COVID-19 will not significantly decrease until we have herd immunity. Herd immunity occurs when enough people become immune to a disease to make its spread unlikely. As a result, the entire community is protected, even those who are not themselves immune. Herd immunity is usually achieved through vaccination, but it can also occur through natural infection. Herd immunity is when 50-80% of the population has been infected and is immune to the disease. The Boston area is seeing an immunity rate of 10%.

Week 10 (7.21.2020) – Ethiopia Protests

Ethiopia Protests

One of the main reasons we started writing this newsletter was to keep everyone up to date with how COVID-19 has affected our partners at SPHMMC in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Our partners at SPHMMC are right in the center of the city, and it is important to understand the current events affecting their work and environment. This is a special edition of our newsletter to look at the protests that have happened over the past couple of weeks. Please make sure to read the linked articles, as we are not subject matter experts.

In the last few weeks and months, Ethiopia has been experiencing rounds of protests over the death of the activist and musician, Haacaaluu Hundeessaa. Hundeessaa was a vital figure during the 2015 movements. His songs became the anthems for the protests that resulted in the resignation of Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn in 2018, which led to major political reforms. Ethiopia has seen related protests in the past 5 years or so as the Oromo ethnic group (the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia) has consistently been targeted and repressed by the central government of Ethiopia. The Oromos have formed various groups, some militant- a fact which the government uses to legitimize its use of force. Read more about this ethnic group and its history here

On June 29th, the popular singer Hundeessaa was shot and killed by an unidentified person with unknown motives. More than 239 people have been killed during the protests that followed his death, most in the Oromia region, but many in the capital, as well. As people took to the streets, the Ethiopian government cut off its citizens from Internet access in an effort to restrict telecommunication during protests, mandating that the state provider stop its services for citizens. After nearly two weeks, some internet has been restored, but many citizens remain in the dark. Similar outages have been used in various regions to control protests, but many human rights groups have condemned this technique especially during COVID-19, when the spread of information is critical to population health. 

These protests come only two years after the election of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who is also of the Oromo ethnic group. It was hoped by many that he would be a powerful force for change in Ethiopia, working to balance the government and provide protections for the persecuted Oromo group. He received the Nobel Peace Prize for restarting peace treaties in the past year with Eritrea, but many are still disappointed and even angry about the lack of support for Oromos in the country. 

The government claims that Ethiopian elections have been delayed due to COVID-19. However, two major Oromo politicians have been arrested. The protesters are calling for elections, the release of these leaders (Jawar Mohammed and Bekele Gerba), as well as for the end of U.S. monetary backing to the government of Ethiopia. 

Journal Club! 

Monday 6/27 @ 6:30pm. We’ll be discussing this article: Medical Devices for Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A Review and Directions for Development (Aditya Visan and James Friend)

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