Dinesh C Sharma

      16:50 EST, 15 September 2012


      16:52 EST, 15 September 2012

      Here is one more emerging danger to the unborn girl child – a cheap and handy ultrasound machine that can be plugged into any computer.

      The gizmo developed by British scientists could cost as little as Rs 2,000-Rs 3,000 and can be operated in conjunction with just about any desktop or laptop.

      The technology developed by the Newcastle University is ready for commercial exploitation.

      Researcher Jeff Neasham studies an ultrasound image on a laptop screen

      Researcher Jeff Neasham studies an
      ultrasound image on a laptop screen

      While it may be a great technological advance which will lower the cost such diagnostic machines several hundred times, its availability in countries such as India could worsen already falling sex ratios.

      A drop in prices of medical ultrasound machines has always been nightmare for demographers and health officials in India because widespread use of such machines for sex selection results in selective killing of unborn girl child and a skewed sex ratio.

      ‘Sex selection would become more rampant with ultra portability and low cost’, pointed out Sabu George, girl child campaigner. ‘We have seen this happening with advancement in ultrasound technology.

      ‘Earlier people had to come to hospitals in cities for ultrasound. Then they started taking smaller ultrasound machines in ambulances and now portable machines are being used.’

      Medical ultrasound machines are regulated under the law against sex selection. Every machine has to be registered and monitored. But regulation is lax, said George.

      If the new machine which can be carried anywhere like a computer mouse, it would be impossible to regulate. However, developers of the technology feel that the use of low cost device could save lives of several thousand women in poor countries.

      ‘Imaging to obtain even the simplest information such as the child’s position in the womb or how it is developing is simply not available to women in many parts of the world,’ Jeff Neasham of Newcastle University said.

      The hand-held USB device works just like existing ultrasound scanners, using pulses of high frequency sound to build up a picture of unborn child on the computer screen.

      In order to keep costs low and yet produce high resolution images, several innovative sonar signal processes have been used.’

      We hope the very low cost of this device and the fact that it can run on any standard computer made in the last 10 years means basic antenatal imaging could finally be made available to all women,’ Neasham said.