Purdue Alum Creates Bandages to Save Lives in Kenya

Posted: Updated:
Mills says more than 500 of the modified bandage kits have been distributed in Kenya. Mills says more than 500 of the modified bandage kits have been distributed in Kenya.

A skin infection called Kaposi Sarcoma—easily treated in the U.S.—claims about one million lives each year in Kenya. The situation puzzled a Purdue University pharmacy alum and motivated him to create a medicated bandage that is now being used in the African nation. Alex Mills traveled to Kenya for his student service-learning project in 2016 and discovered socioeconomic barriers were the main culprits blocking treatment of the infection; his $2 solution is now helping hundreds of patients.

“As a pharmacist and healthcare professional, I think about how I can provide care realistically and in a cost-effective way,” says Mills, who earned his PharmD in 2017. “I think that’s easily lost in our profession of, ‘This is what we’re supposed to use.’ But when a patient can’t meet us at that point because of cost, lack of resources or any other socioeconomic barriers, it was rewarding [in Kenya] to figure out what can I do with what the patient has.”  

Kaposi Sarcoma is one of HIV/AIDS’ most opportunistic infections, meaning it takes advantage of the weakened immune system caused by the disease. Due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Kenya, the otherwise treatable skin condition causes more than one million deaths annually. It also produces unsightly wounds—typically on the legs or arms—and carries a heavy social stigma.

“Patients have these wounds on their legs and people say, ‘Hey, there’s something wrong with you,’” says Mills. “That further magnifies a lot of the social barriers an individual can have because of this unsightly illness that can develop. That was my focus; that’s why I wanted to address it.”

More than skin lesions, Kaposi Sarcoma is a cancer that can spiral out of control, spread to other organs and make patients susceptible to other infections. In the U.S., commercially-available compression bandage kits cost about $15 to $30 and easily heal the wounds, but are an unrealistic solution in Kenya; namely, they’re too expensive for the low-resource setting. The bandage resembles a knee-high compression sock, and the material is coated in a medicated paste.

“I took all of the individual parts that comprise the kit and thought, ‘What do I have here in Kenya with very limited resources? How can I get all of those individual components, and essentially, experiment and try to develop my own version of that kit?’” says Mills. “I remember spending time at the cafeteria in our compound in the middle of the night with some bandages out on the kitchen table, some medicated paste, and I have a butter knife that I’m using to spread it over this bandage—hoping it was going to work.”  

Mills successfully duplicated the commercially-available kit. His version includes the same two key components: compression and the active ingredient. He says the most important distinction is that the bandage is a sustainable solution in Kenya; rather than forcing the region to rely on donations or funding to purchase commercially available bandages, they’re produced by hand in Kenya using available materials.

Mills says clinics throughout Kenya associated with Purdue’s efforts are now using the bandages, and team members are aiming to make them available in Tanzania. Current efforts center on conducting clinical research that could show the benefits of using the bandages. The team is also looking for partners and funding that could ramp up production and standardize manufacturing of the bandage kits.

Mills is now completing a residency at the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy to specialize in ambulatory care. While wound care likely won’t be the focus of Mills’ career moving forward, he says lessons learned in Kenya will guide how he cares for patients.

“Caring for patients here in Mississippi—they have similar barriers, especially in their socioeconomic status,” says Mills. “Thinking about what my patients need and what gaps are out there in their care—that’s always in the forefront of my mind.”

Mills says his bandage kit is a modified version of the commercially-available Unna Boot, but features the same key elements.
Mills says producing the bandage kits in Kenya is a long-term solution that could also stimulate the local economy.
  • Perspectives

    • Regional Investment Proposal Could be a Game Changer for Quality of Place Initiatives in Indiana

      While quality of place may be defined differently by people, a growing number of Hoosiers recognize the importance of this issue. In particular, the impact of quality of place on talent attraction and retention in a geographic area cannot be ignored. The future of every community is dependent on quality of place. Like many Midwestern states, Indiana is not growing at the same pace as areas in the southern and western regions of the United States.



Company Name:
Confirm Email:
INside Edge
Morning Briefing
BigWigs & New Gigs
Life Sciences Indiana
Indiana Connections


  • Most Popular Stories

    • The Vogue opened as a movie house in 1938, then reopened as a nightclub in 1977. (Picture Courtesy: The Vogue)

      Tech Vets Purchase Popular Indy Nightclub

      A group of Indianapolis tech entrepreneurs has bought a popular nightclub in the city's Broad Ripple neighborhood. High Alpha co-founder Eric Tobias and former MOBI executives Scott Kraege and Andrew Davis say they will retain the Vogue's current staff to manage the venue's day-to-day operations. The new owners say they will detail plans to reinvigorate the Vogue through enhanced fan experience and engagement in the coming months. Tobias, Kraege and Davis purchased the Vogue...

    • (Image courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts.)

      Colts Announce 2019 Regular Season Schedule

      The 2019 NFL schedule is out and the Indianapolis Colts will play in several high-profile games. All three of the Colts’ 2019 primetime games will be on the road against defending division champions. 

    • Bryan Brenner is the CEO of FirstPerson and a founding partner of Performance Lab.

      FirstPerson Execs Launch Performance Lab

      A new firm founded by executives from Indianapolis-based FirstPerson says it wants to help companies strengthen performance. Performance Lab uses a field test known as the Performance Climate Survey, which provides insights into a company’s performance culture. Founding Partner Bryan Brenner, who is also the CEO of FirstPerson, says the firm has already landed a number of early customers, including Goodwill Industries, the Indy Chamber and the Central Indiana Community Foundation.

    • Skilled Nursing Facility Proposed for Merrillville

      A new $7 million skilled nursing facility is being proposed in Merrillville. Our partners at The Times of Northwest Indiana report the development would include five residential buildings outfitted with 12 beds, a dining area, beauty salon and spa. 

    • 2019 'Stellar' Finalists Announced

      Lieutenant Governor Suzanne Crouch has unveiled the finalists for the 2019 Stellar Communities Program. The four regions selected will receive a planning grant and work with the Indiana Communities Institute at Ball State University on project alignment and continued planning efforts. Stellar Communities, launched in 2011, is led by the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs and aims to boost community and economic development and promote local and regional partnerships.