By Shoshana Kordova

When is a selfie not narcissistic? When it’s used to detect one of the leading causes of death in the developing world. It turns out that cellphone photos are one of the best ways possible to effect early diagnosis.

Taking shots of your junk with your cellphone might seem inadvisable at best, but in the developing world, cervical selfies can save lives.
Cervical cancer is responsible for the deaths of more than 270,000 people annually, about 85 percent of whom live in low- or middle-income countries, and it is a leading cause of death in developing nations. Unlike many other medical conditions, though, cervical cancer is relatively easy to identify and treat. Researchers found that death rates from the disease the World Health Organization calls “one of the world’s deadliest—but most easily preventable—forms of cancer for women” decreased between 20 percent and 60 percent after women began to be screened for cervical cancer (PDF).
“There’s no reason a woman should die of cervical cancer just because of the fact that she’s not screened on time,” said Ariel Beery, the CEO and co-founder of Tel Aviv-based startup MobileODT, which makes and sells a small, easily portable, and relatively cheap version of a magnification instrument called a colposcope. “So what we do is make sure that woman gets screened on time.”
In the U.S., cervical cancer rates have been drastically reduced thanks to routine Pap smear screening, but that requires a health care infrastructure too often lacking in other parts of the world, particularly in rural areas. What are increasingly prevalent, on the other hand, are mobile phones, including smartphones: those small machines whose highly developed built-in imaging technology, in the form of cameras, has become so commonplace that most of us rarely think about the power we hold in our pockets and the outsize effect it can have around the world. MobileODT has sold more than 150 mobile colposcopes so far that integrate with smartphones to detect cervical cancer, for use in Kenya, Nicaragua, Haiti, and more than 15 other countries.

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