Summary of "Reverse Innovation” Could Save Lives. Why Aren't We Embracing It?

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Doctors and nurses practicing in developing countries prove, often movingly, the old adage about necessity being the mother of invention – finding simple, affordable solutions that save lives and improve outcomes under difficult circumstances. Writing for the New Yorker, Tom Vanderbilt investigates innovative devices and techniques making their way from the developing world to medical practice in the West. Vanderbilt’s story touches on questions about access, economic motives in health care and bigotry to explain why these inventive solutions often face resistance in the developed world.

About the Author

Tom Vanderbilt is the best-selling author of You May Also Like: Taste in an Age of Endless Choice and Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do.


Low-cost medical solutions are saving lives and reducing costs in developing countries.

The so-called uterine balloon tamponade (UBT) exemplifies low-cost medical solutions that are saving lives and reducing costs in developing countries. One-third of maternal deaths during childbirth result from post-partum hemorrhage (PPH) – the number one cause of maternal death in developing countries. A device called a “uterine balloon” offers the most readily available treatment for PPH, but it costs around $300. To reduce PPH deaths, physician Thomas Burke, the head of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Division of Global Health Innovation, developed the UBT: a device made of a syringe, plastic tubing and a condom. Burke’s UBT can reliably stem uterine bleeding at a cost of only a few dollars and has saved the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of women, in poor regions of the world. Burke distributes the UBT as a kit with diagrammed instructions, and he’s sent...

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