Stanford ‘Extreme’ Students Unveil Innovations to Address Neglected Global Health Issue

ReSurge International/Jennifer Scroggins

Last month, students at Stanford University’s Design for Extreme Affordability unveiled a set of innovative products and processes they developed to address some of the most pressing issues facing the world’s poorest citizens.

Three of those student groups were assigned to develop solutions to help prevent deaths and disabilities caused by severe burns. Without proper treatment, severe burn injuries leave their victims with disabilities that disfigure them and cost more than $80.2 billion a year in lost productivity. The students in these groups were paired with InterAction member organization ReSurge International to help develop their ideas.

The ‘Extreme’ students collaborated with ReSurge staff in the US, and in March, six of the students traveled to the organization’s surgical outreach program in Kathmandu, Nepal, to witness firsthand the challenges of treating severe burns in a developing country.

They worked with Dr. Shankar Rai, a local surgeon and head of the outreach program, and his team there to develop ideas for critical, low-cost products and processes that could save lives and functionality – approaching the issue from three angles: the village level, health systems level and the operating room level.

The Designs

The village-level team proposed The Ember Project, a referral hotline that can connect burn victims to local organizations that can help them, including ReSurge and other organizations that can address other aspects of the trauma of a burn injury.

Village team

(Students presenting The Ember Project)

In response to seeing a patient die from a 30-percent burn injury that could have been treated with proper supplies, the operating room-level team decided to focus on developing a low-cost method to create a skin bank for Dr. Rai’s hospital, which would be the first in a Nepali hospital. A skin bank would enable his team to save the lives of acute burn victims by preventing fatal infections. 

The health systems team developed a prototype for a hand splint called HandHero, which is designed to facilitate recovery for patients after hand surgery and will cost less than $20.

“We learned [in Nepal] that lack of access to long-term physical therapy is one of the factors that result in permanent disability for burn survivors,” said Maria Langat, a student on the health systems team.

The idea for HandHero came about after the students sat with Mohan Dangol, ReSurge’s hand therapist in Kathmandu, as he painstakingly created an expensive custom splint for a young girl named Bishnu. Her father had made a significant financial sacrifice to bring her to Kathmandu from their village in Western Nepal.

“We realized that we had an opportunity to allow Mohan to reach a lot more people by creating an affordable hand splint that burn survivors like Bishnu could use and adjust at home with remote support from a physical therapist,” Maria said.


(The health systems team's Hand Hero prototype)

The Way Forward

In the past, numerous products and services developed by students in the course have gone on to be manufactured and implemented in the world’s poorest countries. This summer, the students plan to continue refining their products and processes, and some of them plan to return to Nepal to run a pilot test and see how well their interventions work. 

“Many of the supplies needed to effectively treat severe burns are currently cost prohibitive in places like Nepal,” said Joe Lippi, ReSurge’s director of medical programs and impact.

“The innovations these students are developing hold great promise for addressing this neglected health issue and ultimately for improving health outcomes.” 

To learn more and to keep up with the progress of these students' innovations, follow ReSurge International's updates on Facebook, Twitter and on the web.

Jennifer Scroggins is assistant director of communications and advocacy at ReSurge International.