Interview: D-Rev's Krista Donaldson on designing health products for the world's poor

Social Enterprise

Interview: D-Rev's Krista Donaldson on designing health products for the world's poor

Across the globe, public hospitals struggle to pay for resources needed to treat even the most basic inflictions. But a San Francisco based non-profit is working to change that.

Design Revolution, or D-Rev, is addressing public health concerns across the globe by designing low-cost medical technology. Seeking to improve the health and income of those living on under $4 a day, D-Rev brings cost-effective medical technology to developing countries by designing products with end-user and local context in mind. Currently the organization is distributing two products it designed: ‘ReMotion Knee,’ a multiple-axis prosthetic knee, and ‘Brilliance,’ a blue light that treats jaundice. Global Envision interviewed D-Rev’s CEO Krista Donaldson this week to learn more about what makes D-Rev tick.

What makes D-Rev more sustainable than other organizations providing medical technology to developing countries?
What makes us different is we tackle the whole product development process. A lot of design groups bite off a chunk, whereas we say we’re going to own this whole problem and find key players to help us do this. So, for example, one of the big things we’ve seen with the knee is you can have the greatest knee in the world, but clinics don’t have a reliable supply of the components.

It’s not just a matter of making great product but making it affordable and sustainable. Our customers aren’t looking for silver bullet technology.

How does D-Rev decide which countries to distribute its technology in?
We go where there’s already a decently functioning infrastructure and where we have contacts in the medical community. But the reality is that hospitals are hospitals. We see power surges in India the same way we do in Nigeria. The medical environment across the developing world isn’t that vastly different when it comes to product because the needs are relatively similar.

What local market actors does D-Rev work with?
When we go into a new country and do a new program, we work with pre-existing market actors. Take Brilliance for example: we license our design to Phoenix Medical Systems [a local manufacturer in India] for production. We worked with Phoenix not only to cap the price of Brilliance, but also to incentivize them to distribute this product to places they normally wouldn't.

What sort of incentives did you provide Phoenix?
We created an incentive by allowing them to keep the royalties they would normally pay D-Rev for the design if they sell to public, rural hospitals.

What about manufacturing and distribution?
I’m cognizant of when it makes sense to manufacture in a country or not, and we always defer to what makes the most sense for market quality. I strongly feel that we live in a very globalized world and, for better or for worse, production needs to be where it makes most sense for the product and user. We don’t put a huge emphasis on local production but rather on local partners.

How sustainable are D-Rev’s products?
To be honest, if D-Rev were to shut down today Brilliance would still sell. The fact that we’ve been able to bring the cost of a blue light down from around $3,000 to $400 speaks for itself. The technology is in such high demand that we’ve actually had a backorder. But our partner is rising to that challenge, it’s just a reality of product development.

Donaldson’s final comment on the sustainability of D-Rev’s products raises an important point about market-based development: the long-term effects of such contributions are invaluable. D-Rev or no D-Rev, Phoenix Medical Systems now has an affordable and popular product that fulfills a vital public health need.

Hear Donaldson speak at Mercy Corps' Action Center, Tuesday, March 12 at 7 p.m., sponsored by The Lemelson Foundation


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