The consumerism that has people waiting in line for the latest iPhone is more beneficent than it appears, writes Daniel Fletcher in The Wall Street Journal (9/21/13). Indeed, "customers set on having the latest, greatest smartphones are driving a dramatic decrease in cost and increase in functionality that will benefit people whose total annual income is often less than the cost of a single phone. The reason for this odd coupling between affluent smartphone purchasers and the poor is simple: The enormous capabilities of smartphones are being repurposed and re-directed for use in the developing world."
Some seven years ago, Daniel and "a group of students … at the University of California at Berkeley" found that the "one-megapixel cameras" on phones "could capture images of human cells similar to those captured on a $150,000 research microscope. By attaching a simple set of lenses to a Nokia phone" they "were able to image blood cells, malaria parasites and the bacteria that causes tuberculosis."
They’ve since re-purposed smartphones to "screen for parasitic worm infections … image the back of the eye for retinal diseases" and "provide early warning of oral cancer. Other researchers have created a cellphone stethoscope and a portable ultrasound system." Although these devices are not as fully featured as traditional medical instruments, they can provide "basic primary-care services and diagnostic work, and with expanding wireless services that allow doctors to interpret results and recommend treatments remotely," they make medical services "available in the field – anywhere in the world."