Christian ministry’s "lab-in-a-suitcase" may offer medical missions its best defense against avian flu.
International Aid’s (IA) compact, portable and inexpensive lab kit provides 85 percent of the basic diagnostic work for diseases commonly found in developing countries, where the virus has made a strong impact.
The virus, also known as H5N1 by its scientific name, has reportedly spread amongst poultry and wild birds in East Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Eurasia, and North America.
Though the virus is fatal to poultry, it has rarely spread to humans. Nonetheless, given the influenza’s ability to mutate and the widespread nature of the virus, experts fear that the disease may pass easily into the human population.
IA CEO and president, Myles Fish, said that the best way to save avian flu victims is to make a quick diagnosis as soon as symptoms occur.
In many cases, in third-world countries, the few hospitals that do exist lack the proper equipment to make the needed early-diagnosis.
Last month, in China, an eight-year-old girl contracted the virus, just two weeks prior to a national health ministry report that a migrant-worker had died from the disease.
In August 2004, the World Health Organization identified 15 H5N1-related deaths in Vietnam, and 8 in Thailand.
"We know that the population that we work with, out in the developing world will probably be the people who are the most susceptible to the avian flu, if and when it strikes," said Fish, as quoted in Mission Network News, a daily journal that often reports on mission activities.
The kit, which came into existence in 2000, has proved its usefulness over the years, especially for work in disaster zones and undeveloped-nations.
When a devastating tsunami swept South and Southeast Asia in December 2004, the ministry distributed many of these kits to isolated medical centers throughout Indonesia’s Aceh region.
The following year, IA distributed additional kits to countries affected by the South and Southeast Asia tsunami, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the Pakistani earthquake.
The mobile equipment consists of a field colorimeter, binocular microscope, urine centrifuge, hematocrit centrifuge (for blood samples), ESR, hemocytometer (for cell count), and manual/reference books contained in a tough, compact suitcase.
The kit has its own power source for the lab equipment in the form of a stainless-steel solar panel, rechargeable 12V 7AH lead acid battery, and 5-amp adapter.
Disposable items found in the suitcase include microscopy, hematocrit, hematology, colorimeter, urine and blood collection kits.
The "lab-in-a-suitcase" is designed for working in conditions where no electricity and running-water is readily available – conditions commonly found in developing nations or disaster zones.
Fish said that he hopes the kits would enable field hospitals "to have the tools that they need to provide for the health care needs while at the same time developing the relationship that's necessary for them to share their faith in Christ."
As of this date, the spread of the avian flu shows no signs of stopping, as scientist pointed out that migrating wild birds may further the spread of the virus.
In March 24, the World Health Organization reported that about 105 people have died from illnesses associated with the bird flu.