Along with medication, sunlight can help to treat tuberculosis. This sounds like a simple solution, until you realise — as Dr Krista Dong did — that your patients don't have enough access to light. As the head of an NGO trying to stamp out TB in the African province of KwaZulu-Natal, Dong realised that many people she was treating lived in deprived conditions, with limited exposure to natural light. This was severely counter-productive to the healing process.
This is why her alliance with Sheila Kennedy, an architect and designer from Boston, has proved a triumph. Kennedy and her team have come up with what they call Portable Lights. By weaving minute electronic crystals into fabric, they enable the fabric to collect and store sunlight. Each blanket has sewn into it a new-generation flexible solar panel that, when exposed to sunlight, charges up. At 10 inches long and five inches wide, the panel is connected to a battery and two LEDs, all hidden within the fabric, and weighing less than a pound. All the battery needs is three hours of sunlight — then, when dusk falls, the blanket shines, emitting light and heat for up to 10 hours.
These Portable Lights aren't expensive. Costing $50 apiece, the batteries only need to be recharged every two to three years, and the technology is remarkably durable Kennedy has been known to drop them from a height of 30ft to prove it. This collaboration of talents looks set to revolutionise the lives of the poorest sufferers of TB.