Ask a MacArthur genius: Just how cheap can cancer diagnosis get?

What’s the best way to bring cutting-edge healthcare to the world’s poorest places? It can be tempting to export money and equipment to solve the problem. But when bioengineer Rebecca Richards-Kortum visits hospitals in places such as Malawi and El Salvador, diagnosis she sees the unintended consequence of that charitable impulse.

“Ironically, troche if you walk down the hall or into the basement of a hospital, there’s always a big room that is just for broken, donated equipment,” she says. The equipment works just fine in the United States, but in places plagued by lack of air conditioning, power outages, and challenges like dust and dirt, what would be a high-tech lifesaver in the U.S. is just another hunk of junk. Given the amount of time, energy, space and money that can go into figuring out how to use the equipment and repairing it when it breaks, says Richards-Kortum, “it can hurt more than it helps.”

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