6 Brilliantly Low-Budget Inventions That Could Help Save the World

From purified drinking water to safer home births, these genius inventions bring hope and possibility to millions.

Big Problem: A Tiring Task

Ralph Smith for Reader's Digest

In many rural areas, women 
and girls are typically the ones who shoulder the arduous, 
time-consuming, and dangerous job of gathering water, often 
located far from their homes, which means they must forgo school and employment.

Simple Solution: Water Wheels
Two South African brothers, Hans and Piet Hendrikse, created the 
Q Drum from super-sturdy polyethylene so that it can be rolled or pulled across the bumpiest terrain without springing a leak. The 
Q Drum holds up to 13 gallons 
of water and can also be used to transport grain and other foods.

To learn about contributing to a Q Drum project, e-mail [email protected]

Big Problem: Unsafe H2O

Ralph Smith for Reader's Digest

One in nine people around the 
globe lacks access to clean drinking water, 
and as a result, more than 3.4 million end up 
dying every year from diseases—like diarrhea and typhoid—related to polluted water, 
ineffective sanitation, and poor hygiene. The youngest are most at risk: Some two million 
of the victims are children.

Simple Solution: A Smart Straw
The LifeStraw is a portable filter that eliminates 99.9 percent of all waterborne bacteria and parasites. Invented by the Swiss company Vestergaard, each straw can clean up to 264 gallons of water. The device has already been distributed in more than 64 countries.

When you purchase a LifeStraw (buylifestraw.com), Vestergaard distributes a portion of the proceeds to fund water purifiers in a developing country.

Big Problem: Cancer Epidemic

Ralph Smith for Reader's Digest

Cervical cancer remains the leading cause of cancer deaths among women in developing countries, due to a dearth of both trained medical professionals and easy, affordable ways to screen for the disease.

Simple Solution: A Vinegar Test
Scientists have devised a diagnostic technique that relies on common vinegar and requires minimal training to administer, and it has been shown to reduce cervical-cancer deaths by nearly one third. Jhpiego, a nonprofit organization affiliated with Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, is now working to make the test available worldwide.

Jhpiego aids women and kids worldwide; read about its work at jhpiego.org.

Content continues below ad

Big Problem: Toxic Cooking

Ralph Smith for Reader's Digest

Meal preparation can be a deadly chore in the developing world. About half the planet’s population still cooks with solid fuels like dung, coal, and wood, and the air pollution from these sources is thought to lead to more than four million premature deaths a year.

Simple Solution: A Green Stove
African Clean Energy, a South African company, has invented a stove that works more efficiently (using 70 percent less fuel) and cleanly (creating 95 percent fewer harmful emissions) than traditional methods. The battery-powered appliance recharges via a solar panel, and it has a USB port to power cell phones and laptops.

African Clean Energy is giving its cookstoves to families headed by orphans in Lesotho. To find out more, go to africancleanenergy.com.

Big Problem: Lethal Home Births

Ralph Smith for Reader's Digest

Every day around the world, an estimated 800 women die from infections and hemorrhages incurred from childbirth or pregnancy complications. Many of the deaths occur in areas where births happen at home without medical care.

Simple Solution: A Basic Safety Kit
Bangladesh has had one of the world’s highest maternal mortality rates, so the nonprofit organization BRAC created a low-cost solution: a 40-cent home-delivery kit that contains gauze, disinfecting carbolic soap, a sterile plastic sheet, a thread (to tie off the umbilical cord), and a surgical blade (to cut it). BRAC has distributed more than 2.6 million kits, which are credited with helping to reduce the maternal mortality rate by over 50 percent in the past decade.

BRAC runs a variety of social, economic, and health-related programs in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. To read about its efforts, visit bracusa.org.

Big Problem: Unhygienic Periods

Ralph Smith for Reader's Digest

In Rwanda, 18 percent of menstruating girls and women miss, on average, 35 days of school and work each year because they cannot afford sanitary pads. To avoid skipping, some of them resort to unsafe alternatives like rags, leaves, and mud, which can lead to infections and other diseases.


Simple Solution: An Inexpensive Maxi Pad
Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE), based in Rwanda and founded by Harvard Business School graduate Elizabeth Scharpf, makes pads from banana-tree fibers; the pads cost three cents apiece. SHE buys the material, which is usually discarded, from two female-led banana cooperatives.

A donation of $100 can provide maxi pads to keep 140 girls in school for a year. Go to sheinnovates.com for more information.

Content continues below ad

View as Slideshow

Want to stay smart and healthy?

Get our weekly Health Reads newsletter

how we use your e-mail
We will use your email address to send you this newsletter. For more information please read our privacy policy.