• Mohor Sengupta

Medicine is reaching rural heartlands of Africa, thanks to Butterfly.

Updated: Apr 17, 2019

A small, pocket sized device manufactured and marketed by a company called Butterfly Network is already making small leaps in its baby steps. Founded by Jonathan Rothberg, scientist and entrepreneur, known for inventing high-speed “Next-Gen” DNA sequencing, Butterfly Network has possibly revolutionized modern diagnoses with its hand held, microchip based and unbreakable ultrasound scanner called Butterfly iQ, which can upload scanned images of organs on the internet via connection with an iPhone.


A partnership of two charitable organizations in Uganda is utilizing the full potential of this smart, little scanner. Children with breathing problems, women with tumorous growths on their chest, men with swollen bellies, pregnant girls, everyone is getting the prompt diagnosis of their condition, something that could typically take months or never even take place in these small Ugandan villages.


The scanned images that seem too complicated to the doctors in the field are being sent to Canada for experts to take a look and verify their predictions. This happens within hours, saving crucial time for the patients.


In a community where accessibility to prompt diagnosis is often a huge roadblock, people flock to traditional medical practitioners who use magic and elaborate rituals to shoo away diseases, often at the cost of tremendous health hazards to patients. Local beliefs are not the only factors that prevent these people from getting the right medical care. The nearest X-ray or MRI scanner may be hundreds of miles away. Then, this tiny black Butterfly perched inside the coat pocket of a doctor in the remote wilderness of Uganda might just be the best shot at getting an accurate diagnosis for these people.


“That was my real motivation for making it,” said Dr. Rothberg. “Two-thirds of the world’s population gets no imaging at all,” he added. “When you put something on a chip, the price goes down and you democratize it.”


A cumbersome ultrasound equipment can range in price anywhere from $10,000 to $200,000 per machine, whereas, the portable and microchip based Butterfly iQ costs less than $2000. Dr. Rothberg donated several of these to medical charities working in 13 low-income countries worldwide, seven of them in Africa.


Primarily employed to scan for pneumonia, a misdiagnosed disease that affects many children in poor countries, Butterfly iQ found its way into discovering cancers, complicated pregnancies, lodged pieces of weapons inside the body and birth defects, to name a few.



Image source: Max Pixel