Day 17: Final Meetings in Hong Kong

Wednesday November 17, 2010

We have come full circle. Back in Souzhou, we met with a biotech company that is based in Hong Kong with financiers based in Beijing. Since we were going to be flying out of Hong Kong on the last leg of our trip, we made an appointment to meet with this company at their premises and to tour their labs. At the same time, one of us knew someone in the Hong Kong Science Park. So we booked a meeting with people at the Science Park as well.

It’s been a long trip, and it would be easy to just ignore these final meetings. The CEO in my group is anxious to get back to his family, and this is the longest he’s been away from them. I also just want to get home. The amount of follow up I have to do is already starting to feel daunting.

However, scouting for leads and building relationships is an art. Effective business development is also about who is able to make this extra effort.

The meetings turn out to indeed be fruitful. It is now no longer surprising that I learn more new things about what is going on in China and Hong Kong through these meetings.

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When it comes to language, there is a key difference between China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

In China, the language is Mandarin, and written text is in a form called Simplified Chinese (simplified for easier typing and texting).

In Taiwan, the language is Mandarin, but the written text is Traditional Chinese. My print materials were all in either Simplified Chinese or English. I didn’t realize this difference about Taiwan while I was preparing for this trip, so I didn’t ask the marketing team to create any slides or brochures in Traditional Chinese text. So in presentations in Taiwan, I just went with the English material. Simplified Chinese is not understood here. The nuances of good etiquette is that it would be inappropriate to even show the Simplified Chinese materials here, because it would be incomprehensible, and the audience would know that I was not initially planning to meet with Taiwan companies.

In Hong Kong, the language is Cantonese, and the written text is also Simplified Chinese. So again, I just used the English presentation materials.

It’s little details like this that I always need to find out on the fly as I travel across different countries.

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In the evening, I am on my own again. I take the opportunity to go up to Victoria Peak, the highest point on Hong Kong Island to have a look at the city at night before I fly out tomorrow.

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Hong Kong by Day and Night: Pictures

My delegation members are all off with other meetings or personal appointments today, so I have today off.

A major feature of the downtown area is Hong Kong Park. This is a lush tropical park in the middle of the business district, popular with tourists and photographers. There is a conservatory with all types of plants as well as an aviary with over 2000 birds. It is the first time I get to see coffee beans, cocoa pods, and star fruit in an unpicked setting.

There is no shortage of watch and jewelery stores everywhere. In one mall, there is a tall set of escalators that travel over ten stories to the top of this massive atrium.

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Taipei to Hong Kong

Monday November 15, 2010

We are finally on the last leg of our way home. Today we fly out of Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport to Hong Kong, where there will be one more day of meetings.

The Taiwan airport is… interesting. It has cute features like animation figures hanging overhead. Our departure gate has a children’s theme. There is another departure gate that features plants and a relaxation area.

I spend the last of my Taiwan dollars on a bottle of red wine at the duty free.

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For the next few days, I will be chilling in Hong Kong awaiting my final meetings. Hence, the bottle of red wine I picked up in the Taipei airport.

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Day 14: Sunday Day Off

Sunday November 14, 2010

We spend our Sunday outside of the city. The subway takes us far out of Taipei, into the sea side town of Danshui (also called Tamsui).

The place still looks quite industrialized with old buildings lining side streets. It is explained to me that these buildings are over 50 years old. They are owned by individuals, which makes it difficult to purchase whole blocks to redevelop the area.

As luck would have it, there is a celebration of Taiwan-Canada relations at a current exhibit at Fort San Domingo. Reverend George Leslie Mackay from southwestern Ontario, arrived in the area in the 1870s and spent the rest of his life doing missionary work here.

The fisherman’s wharf is also nearby. The landmark is the Lover’s Bridge. This is a popular place for people to go on weekends, and for romantics to see the sun set over the Taiwan Strait. A ferry connects Danshui with Bali town on the other side of the Danshui river. There are long paths along the waterfront in Bali.

It is a day spent doing what locals do on a Sunday.

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My most enlightening moment today was listening to what the company CEO, who was with me this weekend, had to say about his experience of going to church in China. He told me that compared to Canada, everyone in the Shanghai church was full of energy. They were really engaged in the rites of mass. The procession was full of energy, everyone was singing enthusiastically, and the priest was dancing as he encouraged participation from the assembly. He said he has never experienced anything like that in Canada. He thinks that this enthusiasm is because there are many people in China who yearn for spirituality and meaning.

It was all amazing for me to hear about such a different experience. I recently read a feature story in a Toronto newspaper about persecution in China of people who practiced Catholicism. I asked him whether people in the church were afraid of this happening. His reply was that this was not the case at all. People were free to practice their faith, so long as the church does not make any reference to politics. He then explained that the Catholic church in China does not have ties with the Vatican, and this is a way to avoid problems.

It was also amazing for me to discover a different side to the story that was written in that Toronto newspaper. I am glad to be reminded that you can’t get the whole truth by reading a local newspaper. You have to go find things out for yourself, and that’s what makes the truth so precious.

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Day 13: Saturday Day Off

Saturday November 13, 2010

Our trip is almost over. We have to kill a weekend in Taipei. The CEO who is my guide for this part of the trip wants to see the city a bit, so we go out for a walk around town.

I forgot to mention that Taipei is very orderly. People stand in orderly lines to get into the subway cars. Even when it is packed during rush hour, no one butts in. They find their way to the end of the line. The CEO tells me that his theory is that in Asia, the more resource constrained a place is, the more orderly people behave to have a society that can overcome the constraints. So people in China are quite disordered in public, Japan is more ordered publicly, Taiwan is more so, and Singapore is at the extreme. Interesting theory.

The only annoying transportation hassle that I find here is that there are small motorcycles everywhere. Millions of them. When I speak with anyone who has ever been to Taipei, this is the one point they all remember. You can hear them coming up behind you on small streets and walkways, and you have to sidestep to get out of their way.

We make it to the Taipei 101, the second tallest building in the world. The elevator is the fastest in the world at over 1000 meters a minute in a pressurized capsule. The ride takes less than 45 seconds to the 89th floor. This tall building is in an earthquake zone. The building has a 660 ton ball suspended in the middle of the tower to act as a vibration damper to keep the building from swaying too much.

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Day 12 in Asia: Final Day of Meetings in Taipei

Friday November 12, 2010

Today, it will be just myself and the CEO delegate. He is the CEO of a Toronto biotech company that does a lot of work in Asia.

The pace has changed quite a bit since we left China. A noticeable difference between Shanghai and Taipei is that people in Shanghai walk faster. As Joel notes, in China, they are always in a rush to get somewhere. It is an experience that has to be felt, and best done while walking amongst the crowds in a subway or walking along any street.

The other difference is between my guides. Joel knows the pace and the pulse of these cities well. We are always rushing from one place to another. I think we will be late, but we always make it to appointments exactly on time, right to the minute. We always make it to train stations and airports with 15 minutes to spare. This is quite an impressive feat of timing.

By contrast, this CEO is always early. We arrive at meeting locations 15 to 30 minutes early, and we are never rushing. I guess one thing about being CEO is that you can’t look like you are rushing.

We have three meetings today. One is with a holding company in the downtown area. It invests in eight small health care and biotech companies.

The next meeting is with a medical device company at the other end of town. It is also a major outsource manufacturer (also called private design manufacturer) for private label medical devices sold in over 42 countries.

Our final meeting of the day is with the Taiwan Biotechnology Office. This is a major department established by the government of Taiwan. It is located in a hi tech center consisting of several buildings.

We have one final task: the post office. I have a bunch of extra marketing materials as well as papers received from the companies we have met through this trip. We need to mail these back to Toronto because I have no room in my luggage to carry this back. It’s a major hassle to package this stuff and to find a post office, but this is a key part of traveling light on a long trip.

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Taiwan is an interesting place.

Taiwan is a major original equipment manufacturer for computers and other products for the global IT industry. We see products from Taiwanese companies like Acer and Asus in computer stores all the time. Foxxcon, the infamous company that makes Apple’s iPods and iPhones is also based in Taiwan. But there is little evidence of these companies around the places we visit. Upon further checking, I find out that many of these contract electronic manufacturers have their manufacturing plants elsewhere, like in mainland China.

I also find out that that apart from these large computer parts manufacturers, most of the economy is made up of small and medium sized companies. 1 in 7 people have their own business.

Taiwan was also under Japanese rule for a large part of its modern history, up to the end of the World War II. I now understand why Taipei and certain food preparation and cultural practices appear to have Japanese influences.

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The CEO is a frequent guest of the hotel where we are staying. The hotel owner’s father lives in our hotel. The CEO calls him “grandpa.” Tonight, the CEO is taking me and “grandpa” to dinner. “Grandpa” is 85 years old. We walk to a local neighbourhood restaurant. It is a simple place, with dumplings and noodles costing $10 (Canadian dollars) for the three of us. Over dinner, I hear little parts of “grandpa’s” life that the CEO translates from Mandarin for me. He has never left Taipei, and never even taken the subway. During the war, he had to serve in the Japanese army, where he stayed in a defensive army post. Each day he goes for a walk around the neighbourhood, and he gets to know a lot of the hotel guests.

At the end of the dinner, there is some flavored soy milk left in my cup. I left it there because it was not a particularly appealing flavor . “Grandpa” waves a gesture to the cup. I take a deep breath and drink the rest as we get up to leave.

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Day 11 in Asia: Mediphar Expo in Taipei

Thursday November 11, 2010

When one manages a delegation where all of the team members all pay for their own way, there needs to be flexibility in accommodating to their needs. Today, Joel and the CEO in our delegation (essentially, my entire delegation) need to go off and do their own thing. So I am on my own.

The delegation of life science companies from the province of Ontario (the same group we met in Shanghai) have also moved on to Taipei. They are now at the Mediphar Health Care Expo in Taiwan. The Canadian trade commissioner service has invited their Taipei area contacts to a special seminar to showcase Canadian companies.

Again, I have been asked to give an overview of the life sciences industry in Canada and Ontario.

So I am off to the Mediphar Expo. It is being held at the Taipei World Trade Center. This is in the heart of Taipei’s business district. The world trade center is a complex of office buildings featuring the landmark tower, the Taipei 101. This is the second tallest building in the world (the Burj in Dubai is the tallest).

The session starts very formally. There are Canadian consular staff there as well as heads of various Taipei science and technology organizations speaking. I come next. I recognize that there is someone from the province of Alberta presenting as well, so I have to be diplomatic about how I position the Canadian life science industry.

This is one of those moments where improvise my talking points: give recognition and thanks to the Taipei officials, and introduce the industry in Alberta to set the stage for the Alberta person, before launching into my presentation. It’s been years since I’ve been in Toastmasters, and this is one of those moments when draws on the basics taught in things like that.

It’s a long session followed by one-on-one meetings with the attending companies. By the time I finish, it is 4:00 pm. Then it is on to the convention floor to look at what is going on there.

I meet up with Joel in the evening for dinner. He asks me what I think of Taiwan. As we walk to a local restaurant, he is telling me some of the background on Taiwan. There are many influences from Japan. That is when I notice that the side street looks very much like ones I walked along in Japan in my trip last year.

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Day 10: Traveling All Day to Taiwan

Wednesday November 10

We have finished our work in China. The next part of the trip will be in Taiwan.

Our flight to Taipei Taiwan will be via a stop-over in Hong Kong. This stop-over was Joel’s idea. He always comes up with interesting low cost approaches to a travel itinerary.

When our trip finishes, we will be returning to Toronto from Hong Kong airport. This would normally involve two tickets: Shanghai -> Taipei and Taipei -> Hong Kong.

However, Joel tells us that a return ticket based on Shanghai -> Hong Kong -> Taipei and returning Taipei -> Hong Kong -> Shanghai (where we don’t take the Hong Kong to Shanghai flight segment) is 50% cheaper than a direct flight from Shanghai to Taipei plus a flight from Taipei to Hong Kong.

Just to make sure that our baggage doesn’t get shipped to Shanghai on our “return” segment from Taipei -> Hong Kong, he made sure that the Hong Kong -> Shanghai segment was booked to take place several days after we landed in Hong Kong.

That was a brilliant plan by a veteran traveler who knows all sorts of tricks like this.

Of course, this requires a much longer travel time. I find out that the flight from Shanghai to Hong Kong is often delayed, which indeed happened to us. So we missed our connection in Hong Kong. That was okay with me. The new Shanghai International airport and the Hong Kong Airport are both beautiful places with plenty of boutique stores to browse.

By the time we got into Taipei, it is 12 hours later. This was not a problem, as we planned this whole day to be a travel day.

Joel and I check into our hotel in Taipei. We now reunite with the CEO who is the third delegate in our party. He traveled ahead of us for some meetings, and he asked us to join him and his guest at Din Tai Fung. This is the popular dumpling restaurant chain in Asia, and we all wanted to compare it with our experience at the chain’s restaurant in Shanghai.

Taiwan is more expensive than China, so our hotel is a budget one. When I return to my hotel room and turn on the lights, I realize that it looks like a youth hostel, and there aren’t even any windows. This will be my room for the next five days.

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Day 9: Back to Shanghai for the Third Time

Tuesday November 9: our final day in China.

7:00 am

We check out of the hotel in Hangzhou to take the 7:30 am bullet train back into Shanghai. From the Shanghai train station, it is a 45 minute taxi ride in rush hour traffic to the Sofitel Hotel.

A trade delegation of Life Science companies led by the province of Ontario has just arrived in Shanghai. The province of Ontario is holding a symposium for Shanghai life science companies to meet with this Ontario delegation. I have been asked to give the Shanghai audience an overview of the life science industry in Canada and Ontario.

This is happening at the new Sofitel Hotel. It is an opulent and massive new hotel. Joel and I make it just before the symposium is about to start. We have a bunch of extra marketing materials that I want to get rid of, to lighten the load before I leave China. Joel grabs all of my materials, starts chatting up the people from the invited Chinese companies, and hands them all of my extra materials. It was brilliant!

After my presentation, we stay for another hour to allow us to leave discretely. We have two more companies to meet in the Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park.

12:15 pm

We check back into the Parkyard Hotel in the Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park. We have not eaten all day, so we grab a quick lunch in the food court next door.

As we meet our first company, I am again struck by the background of the management team. All of them obtained their PhDs and MBAs from universities in California. They have detailed knowledge of the global companies that are their potential competitors, and they know their current business situations. They even mention the patent positions of these companies and the patent expiry dates.

Like our meetings yesterday, these people know what they are doing. Also like our meetings yesterday, this company is creating a game changing technology that is simpler to use and cheaper.

3:00 pm

We arrive at the second company. I was expecting an easy (as in a brief) meeting, but again, I encounter someone with experience in the US. He engages us in a lengthy conversation, and subtly selling us on his products.

Indian companies are often competitive with Chinese companies in things like medicinal chemistry and other contract services. This CEO mentions some details about Indian companies that surprise me. He has also reacted to this competitive situation by repositioning his company over the last few years.

6:00 pm

What started as an easy day has been a full day. Both of the companies we meet were full of surprises. Our evening has barely begun.

Joel managed to strike up an excellent relationship with one of the large companies we met last week. They are inviting us out for dinner.

Meanwhile, Joel has also been texting all day with another large company we met last week. Their CEO wants to meet with us before we leave China. Tonight is the only night possible.

The game plan is as follows: Company A takes us out for dinner at 6:45 and Company B meets us in our hotel at 8:30.

The President from Company A shows up on time and takes us out to a serious business restaurant. It has underground parking – that’s exclusive for Shanghai. Each floor has a display wall lined with hundreds of bottles of unopened cognac bottles from Courvoisier and Hennessy in crystal decanters. We are shown to a private dining room with its own private washroom.

8:00 pm

Our dinner with Company A is drawing to a close, but we are going to be late for our 8:30 meeting. Joel is making signs to me to help him finish up the meeting. I start all the typical signals to show that we are wrapping up, including making a mock visit to the washroom.

9:00 pm

The President of Company A drops us off at the lobby of the Parkyard Hotel. We say our goodbyes with hearty handshakes and waves. As soon as we step in the front door, the CEO of Company B is waiting for us with his delegation.

It was funny to watch Joel wave to the two people from Company A, then turn 180 degrees to shake hands with the people from Company B. We are 30 minutes late. We are apologizing, but it looks like they are just happy to see us. We grab a private meeting space in the hotel, and I run up to my room to grab our gifts for them, while Joel keeps them occupied.

10:00 pm

We say goodbye to Company B. We have to leave at 7 am tomorrow for our flight out of Shanghai, meaning that I have to wake up at 5:30 am to pack everything, get breakfast, and check out.

But I am so wired from the day that I decide to grab a glass of wine from the hotel bar. It’s an Australian red that tastes awful. I head up to my room where there is a 250 mL bottle of Chilean red wine in the mini bar. It turns out to be excellent.

It is now 10:30 pm. I’m exhausted, and I still need to send out follow up emails. Looking at the Chilean wine bottle in my hand, I am reminded of an earlier blog post about Chilean miners. I’m thinking that if those guys can handle their ordeal, lack of sleep on my part should be nothing. I start my work, finishing my emails by 12:30 am.

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Day 8 in China: A Day That Changes My Perspective Dramatically

It is the start of the business week in a secondary city in China. Compared with first tier cities like Shanghai and Beijing, this does not have the feel of a cosmopolitan place. Also, there are many signs that English is not going to be spoken by most of the people we meet. I am bracing for a challenging day: my inability to speak Chinese will mean that I will have to be more alert to non-verbal cues, and cue my guide Joel effectively.

We arrive to our destination office. There are retail-industrial buildings lining a wide and busy street. The buildings are probably about 60 to 70 years old. The architectural layout looks like an older and more industrial version of the Spadina Chinatown area in Toronto. Each building is 4 to 6 stories high, but few, if any, of them have elevators. Most of the lights are turned off to save electricity. When we enter these buildings, they looked closed for business.

When we have a mission to look for the most cutting edge biotech companies in the world, this is not exactly the kind of place one would expect to go. But we hired a business development firm with expertise in Chinese biotechnology, so I am trusting that this firm is not going to send us this far out of the way for nothing.

The company’s founder and CEO sees us through the window of the staircase lining the front of the building. He is waving to us and coming out to the street to greet us. After him and Joel exchange introductions in Mandarin, he turns to me and effortlessly transitions into English. We walk up the stairs to his office on the fourth floor as he continues to comfortably make introductory remarks. He throws in a comment that they are moving next month to the Hangzhou High Tech Park.

His assistant/office manager occupies a desk at the top of the staircase. Immediately behind her is his cramped office that he shares with his Chief Technology Officer. After we are seated, he notices that I am sitting in a spot that is bathed in bright sunlight coming through the window. I am wearing a suit, and he asks if I would like to change places, in case I am hot.

He’s got a very easy going style and he’s very friendly. Then he transitions into a light but pointed question about the purpose of our meeting him. Joel and I each offer an explanation, which satisfies him. He then launches into his PowerPoint presentation.

That is when Joel and I begin an awesome journey. Each slide is a short story that is more impressive than the previous slide. This is the meeting that marks the turning point of our entire trip.

This CEO was educated in China, but continued his studies in the US. He has worked in all of the major global technology companies in this field that we are discussing. This included a big name IT company during the tech boom ten years ago when this IT company wanted him to help them expand into the life science space. He knows all of the competitive technologies with the grasp of an insider. It is clear to Joel and I that he knows what he is talking about. Five years ago, he left the US to return to China to advance his vision.

I see inventor entrepreneurs all the time. Even in the US, almost all of them develop one technology platform. This CEO developed five, and integrated all five of them into one system to address an unmet need.

Sorry, I can’t be more specific about the technology area nor the specific health conditions.

The World Health Organization has endorsed only two products to address this medical need in developing countries. The product made by this CEO’s company is one of them.

The Gates Foundation recently held a global technology competition to identify new technologies to address an unmet medical area. The competition has narrowed the entries into a short list of some two dozen submissions for the final competition round. Three entries in this short list are from this CEO’s company.

He shows us samples of his product. Right now, they are selling thousands of these. They can’t keep up with demand. When manufacturing volumes reach a certain level, the price will come down to about a dollar per unit.

I am awe-struck. I can tell that Joel is similarly impressed.

He gives Joel and I several samples to take home. This is also a surprise, because young companies and companies in China are normally secretive. We can tell that he is confident about the intellectual property covering his product. This is also a sign that he has the business sophistication to be confident in facing a global market.

He takes us for a tour of his facility which occupies the two floors of this building. The labs look like a circa 1950’s underfunded lab, but the manufacturing area looks like any other biomedical manufacturing facility I would find in Toronto. It is fully certified by an European Notified Body as well as by the Chinese Food and Drug Administration.

There are pictures of visits to his facility by all the major global biomedical technology companies.

They take us out to lunch at a restaurant across the street. I find out the Chief Technology Officer has been with this CEO for most of his industry career. I also find out that both of them have wives and children back in the US, while they are here in China building the business. We find out that they were cash strapped for a while, but the staff loyally stuck with them at reduced salaries to help the company move along. They recently raised an important round of financing, whereupon they doubled their staff salaries. The staff all seemed to believe in this company and what it was hoping to achieve.

After lunch, they ask one of their employees to drive us to our next meeting. They walk us towards a brand new BMW 5-series sedan. As we finish our meeting and say our goodbyes, he makes a joke that he bought the BMW as the company car right after they got the financing. We all have a good laugh as we leave to our next meeting.

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We show up at the next company where we are to meet with two managers. The one that meets us doesn’t speak English very well, while the second manager is even less fluent.

Whenever we are meeting with non-executive staff, I know we are not being taken very seriously. Over the course of the next 90 minutes, Joel is translating for me and these two managers.

Over the next 90 minutes, I am also picking up that this manager is not like any ordinary “manager level” staff person. He knows the company business strategy at a high level. He is exhibiting technical and product knowledge with sophistication. He is also exercising all the signs of handling the diplomatic and social aspects of a business meeting. In Canadian and US companies, it is rare that I meet people at this level who exhibit such business sense and level of professionalism.

Over a series of exchanges being translated by Joel, something is communicated that defies spoken words. He shares with us the aspirations of his company to produce good products that will over take the biggest competitors that dominate this industry on a worldwide basis. Usually, comments like this are hubris, but we know that this is not, because he shows us product examples and goes into details about them. The key feature of the products made by this company is that they are based on a simpler and cheaper technology. It is also more stable to harsh conditions. It is truly a disruptive technology.

I leave the meeting feeling that nothing was lost in translation.

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Later that night, Joel and I have dinner at a local restaurant near the hotel. We go over our notes for the day. Joel has been traveling across China and meeting with all kinds companies over the past few years. Even he is surprised at what he has just seen. Our view of the world has changed dramatically by the end of this one day.

[Postcript: in April 2011, a key industry news item reported a Chinese billionaire investing $100 million on a biotechnology company to be based in Hangzhou with a US office. Hangzhou really is a burgeoning area that we discovered.]

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November 2011 postscript: I can now post a picture of the device that we saw in November 2010. The company ( has moved far further along, and made next generation products.

Here is the medical challenge: testing for diseases like HIV out in the field in remote places is a huge challenge. The labs and expertise are not there.

Also, the current test methods are not ideal. Once a virus enters the body, the immune system starts to produce antibodies against the virus. Diagnostic tests detect these antibodies to determine if the patient is infected with the virus. These tests cannot detect an infection until the body has had enough time to create a response to it.

There are more sensitive tests that can detect the virus directly, which means they can also make a diagnosis at earlier stages of the infection, but these tests are expensive, hard to perform, and use advanced equipment that needs electricity — certainly not suitable for mass use in developing countries, and they are not even common in developed countries.

What if there was a handheld diagnostic device that can detect the virus, so it is sensitive to even the earliest stages of viral infection? It is cheap, it is accurate, the sensitive test components can withstand high heat and humidity of these environments, it is not electrically powered, and it can be used without the large amount of training required of lab staff to do the analysis correctly? We saw just such a device. It comes in easy to use components, and the parts snap together. Coloured dyes light up to signal a positive test. They have since made this even better than that!

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