More than one million people in the world contract a sexually transmitted infection (STI) every day, according to the World Health Organization. Since most of the people do not present any symptoms, they spread easily, which can lead to fatal consequences. For example, Chlamydia is usually asymptomatic, but could end up causing infertility. Being aware if the disease has been contracted is the first step to treat it and prevent its spread, but usually there is no diagnosis until the symptoms are evident.
This young Mexican girl Ishtar Rizzo is the co-founder of LIZA, a start-up that aims to help improve the sexual health of the population through a device that makes the diagnosis of STI’s easier and more private. Thanks to this advancement, Rizzo has become one of the winners of Innovators Under 35 Latin America 2018 of MIT Technology Review.
Although the diagnosis of chlamydia is relatively simple, it is invasive and sometimes painful, as it usually requires a sample of the epithelium inside the genital tract. The LIZA device offers an innovative design that allows it to conveniently collect the initial fraction of urine and discard the rest, without interrupting urination or suffering other discomforts. The urine sample passes through several membranes inside the device, that manage to concentrate the epithelial cells dragged along with the urine. These cells make it possible to detect the presence of the bacteria that causes the disease.
"The idea is to create a device that can be purchased at any pharmacy, just like a pregnancy test," Rizzo explains. This could lead to a quick diagnosis that is painless, and particularly private, something that the young Mexican entrepreneur really values. In her opinion, there is a social stigma against people who come to a clinic in regards to their sexual health. The use of personal devices such as LIZA could eliminate this barrier in the diagnosis of chlamydia and, in the future, probably other diseases of similar nature, such as gonorrhea and syphilis.
The director of education at Gemedco and winner of the Innovators under 35 Colombia and Global editions in 2012, Juan Sebastián Osorio, jury member of Innovators Under 35 Latin America 2018, especially appreciates "the intention of Rizzo to promote sex education, demystify it and eliminate prejudices and taboos, which will have an important impact." According to the WHO, every year 130 million people in the world are infected with chlamydia, a number that exceeds "the entire population of Mexico," Rizzo rightfully states.