The World Happiness Report is an annual survey by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network for the United Nations (UN). It ranks the global happiness of 156 countries, considering factors such as income, freedom, trust, healthy life expectancy, social support and generosity. It is unsurprising that many of the saddest places to live are in the developing world. South Sudan is the unhappiest, followed by Central African Republic, Afghanistan, Tanzania and Rwanda. Citizens in the developing world are starved of opportunities that life in the 21st century should offer them. As stated by the UN’s third Sustainable Development Goal, ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for everyone at all ages is essential to sustainable development. 

Smart facilities and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) should play an important role in the lives of those living in the developed and developing world. Where infrastructures don’t exist to provide access to healthcare and clean sanitation facilities, technology can and should help to bridge the gap. 

Basic sanitation facilities should be a human right. But 2.3 billion people still don’t have basic facilities such as toilets or latrines. Additionally, at least ten percent of the world’s population is believed to consume food irrigated by waste water. This causes immediate risk to health. Poor sanitation has been directly linked to diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio. It contributes to malnutrition, and is estimated to cause 280,000 diarrhoeal deaths annually. This is a stark contrast to the quality of life people are accustomed to in the developed world, and this unfair and desperate situation must be tackled now.

Non-government organisations and charitable foundations are already working hard to try and eradicate toilet poverty.  The U.N. High Level Panel on Water runs the Urban Sanitation Challenge programme, which funds projects tackling poor sanitation in developing countries. There is even a World Toilet Day to emphasise the plight many are living in. Sanitation-focused innovations are beginning to make a difference. The challenge is to make the solutions affordable and sustainable for both the businesses who make them, and the communities who will use them. 

The World Bank states that one in ten deaths in India is due to poor sanitation. The country embarked on its biggest ever drive in 2014 to improve sanitation by 2 October 2019, Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary. Social entrepreneurs are supporting the government with this pledge by innovating cost-effective and revolutionary technology. 

GARV Toilets in India provides smart sanitation solutions to under-served communities in urban and peri-urban areas in developing countries. It provides integrated water, sanitation and hygiene facilities through its ‘Smart Sanitation Hubs’. The hubs include smart toilets, bath facilities, drinking water facilities, laundry services and a business kiosk to sell basic health and hygiene products. 

The hubs are prefabricated, modular solutions which are believed to reduce construction time by 92 percent, in comparison to more traditional bricks and mortar constructions. Internet of Things (IoT) sensors also collect data on usage, how the toilets are functioning and user hygiene behaviour. The data is transferred on to a dashboard and can be shared with partner NGOs who can then monitor the effectiveness of the initiatives. Solar energy also powers the toilets, making this innovation affordable, eco-friendly and sustainable. 

Health and wellbeing can also be severely affected in the developing world due to vast distances people have to travel for healthcare. In many rural communities, this can lead to life or death situations. Technology is an enabler for providing healthcare within vulnerable communities who need it. For example, US-based Ada Health is an app that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help individuals assess their medical symptoms and share the results with healthcare professionals. Originally developed to be a tool for doctors by doctors, Ada now helps people to understand and manage people’s health through personalised symptom assessments. Its AI system is programmed with information about the 120,000 symptoms and 10,000 conditions that can affect the human body. It provides recommendations on next steps as well as sharing the data with healthcare professionals. To date, it has more than five million users worldwide who have completed over nine million symptom assessments. Technology such as this is a lifeline to many in inaccessible areas. 

Improving wellbeing, health and happiness is a key driver for many governments internationally. We’re living in a unique era where health-focused technology can be a force for good and can help in the instances when humans can’t. The innovations from Garv Toilets and Ada Health are proof of on-the-ground, successful technological intervention. Their work hasn’t gone unnoticed internationally, either. They are both finalists in the Global Maker Challenge for the Mohammed Bin Rashid Initiative for Global Prosperity. Their unique, individual abilities to monitor, detect and advise on diseases are lifelines to rural communities. Given the right support, framework and investment, the life-enhancing possibilities of health-technology is endless.  

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