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OmniVis Mobile Cholera Testing Platform

OmniVis is an early stage biotech startup working to eliminate infectious diseases starting with cholera

Photo of Lynne Cheng

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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

Cholera affects an estimated 4 million people a year, including over 1 million in Yemen (2017). 31% of those affected are children under the age of 5. Cholera is an infectious and often fatal disease that causes severe vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration and is caused by ingesting contaminated water or food. Because it is water borne, it can spread rapidly and travel and spread with the individual. Thousands have been displaced and millions facing food and medical shortages in Yemen due to ongoing conflicts. Our mission is to prevent individuals from falling ill from cholera by providing a solution to test the water for the cholera pathogen quickly and affordably. The data is then immediately shared with aid organizations who can efficiently treat or filter the water, and provide necessary medication. Currently, cholera testing in water is done in a laboratory with a process that takes years of technical training. Lab tests can take up to a week and require expensive equipment. We have created a mobile phone based device that can test water for cholera accurately without the need of lab equipment or trained lab technicians. The OmniVis testing platform includes a smartphone with software that analyzes the water sample, a piece of hardware that slips over the phone and acts as a mobile laboratory, and a one time use test chip to collect the water with. Combined, the OmniVis platform provides results in 30 minutes. As a mobile based device, the data is then shared with NGO’s who can deploy solutions and medication if necessary. Instead of deploying the units to displaced individuals who are already overwhelmed by challenges, we have partnered with Médecins Sans Frontières in Yemen. We will be training their volunteers at their headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland from where they will bring the devices and trained personnel to various camps in Yemen.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

We have partnerships in Haiti and Bangladesh in addition to Yemen. However for this project, we will be focusing on Yemen. We chose Yemen because it is the largest humanitarian crisis with 14 million at risk of starvation and deadly diseases such as cholera (UN). Because of our ability to test mobily and disseminate information quickly, the OmniVis cholera detection platform is a uniquely ideal solution for displaced communities on the move.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Health is a universal priority. Though relatively simple to cure, cholera is a disease that still baffles scientists. In recent years, Cholera has received more attention than ever before and starting in 2017 spearheaded by WHO, the Global Task Force on Cholera Control has set out to reduce global cholera deaths by 90% by 2030. To accomplish this international goal will require collaboration from government and NGO’s, medical and non-medical staff, and support from everyone.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

Clean water is a base requirement for many human needs, most obviously health. Something as simple as providing individuals with the knowledge of the potability of their water has far reaching effects. In addition to preventing outbreaks and illness, the knowledge enables individuals to be better informed about their health options. It allows communities to strategize and work together to filter or treat the water, or to find a new water source. The ability to make decisions for yourself is a very empowering feeling that brings dignity back to people. Instead of trying to contain an outbreak, the OmniVis platform will help communities prevent outbreaks and further contamination.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

Cholera is easily treatable once diagnosed, but deadly in hours if left untreated. Because of this, fast and accurate diagnostics is imperative. We want to prevent outbreaks before they happen by testing water sources directly instead of patient stool samples. Prevention is often the most cost and time efficient path. We also want to save countless hours spent in hospitals or caring after family members, hours that could otherwise be spent in school or at work. The simplest way to track our progress will be to track how quickly resources are distributed to impacted areas and to track the number of individuals hospitalized for cholera. While we realize that the number of patients may not provide an accurate number of individuals affected, it serves as a good comparison marker.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

Cholera impacts over a million people in Yemen at the moment. More than ever before, displaced populations are relying on mobile technology for information and news. As a mobile based platform, we understand the power of mobile technology. With improved communication, aid can be provided more quickly and more accurately with fewer wasted resources. However, the inspiration for this technology was born many years ago. In 2010, an earthquake in Haiti caused the largest cholera outbreak in history which killed over 200,000 and displaced over a million (CDC). Since, cholera outbreaks have occurred more often and spread more rapidly than before. In an attempt to act preemptively, scientists at Purdue University explored ways to detect for the cholera pathogen in water instead of human patients and OmniVis was created.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

Due to political unrest, armed conflicts in Yemen have killed or displaced a record number of individuals. Including almost 20,000 wounded or dead civilians as of November 2018 and millions more displaced or facing food shortages. The United Nations considers Yemen to be the world’s largest humanitarian crises with 14 million individuals at risk of starvation and repeated outbreaks of infectious diseases such as cholera. Saudi-led coalition restrictions have also blocked or impeded humanitarian access including closed critical ports and blocking fuel needed to power generators at hospitals. Houthi forces have also confiscated much of the food and medical supplies while also imposing restrictions on aid workers and aid deliveries. Because of these restrictions, our immediate team will not be on the ground in Yemen. Instead, we are partnering with Médecins Sans Frontières who will be on the ground working from offices and local partnerships they have already established.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

We have a strong team that is very talented in specific skills, but we know that the most efficient way to do most things is through collaboration. Because of this, we will be leveraging Médecins Sans Frontières’ established local network and knowledge of Yemen to implement our platform. We are a team of scientists and operations personnel that have deep knowledge of the disease and the detection methods. However, we cannot claim to understand Yemeni culture or language. We are eager to learn and will adapt our methods and device to better suit the environment as necessary.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

We have distinct partners in each region we target. In Bangladesh, we work with icddr,b, the world’s first and largest cholera research hospital. In Kenya, we work with Code for Africa and Moi University. In Haiti, we work with Haiti Outreach and The Emerging Pathogens Institute. Because of the political climate in Yemen, we will be working with Médecins Sans Frontières as they are one of the few groups that have the ability to enter and leave the country. As an international aid organization, they are a valuable partner and may be the best solution for us to deploy in additional countries.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Being on the move, crossing borders, and/or temporarily settled

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Product: A new or enhanced physical product that creates value for end beneficiaries

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Prototype: We have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing the idea.

Group or Organization Name


Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

OmniVis is an early stage biotechnology company aiming to prevent infectious disease outbreaks, starting with cholera. The company was founded by four doctors of biomedical engineering driven by a shared passion for enabling communities to make educated health decisions.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a For-Profit Startup or Startup Social Enterprise

Organization Headquarters: Country

United States of America

Organization Headquarters: City / State

West Lafayette, Indiana


Join the conversation:

Photo of Sadam Matsawili

Hi Lynne Cheng What a technology! I really like it. Your animation way of Interviewing Catherine is also very wonderful. Hope the technology will be of great help to people on the move who and refugee camps where safe water is more likely to be an issue.

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