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Makers, Mobile Phones, and Malaria: 5 Favorite Moments from Day 2 of SwitchPoint 2014

“What happened yesterday was—forgive me—Saxa-powerful,” said Aaron Sherinian of the UN Foundation today.

He was the first speaker on stage Friday during the second and final day of SwitchPoint 2014 in Saxapahaw, North Carolina. And today was just as (ahem) Saxa-powerful. In case you couldn’t make it, here are a few of the day’s highlights:


“We’re sitting at a big moment in time for the global health community,” Sherinian said. And we’re looking at some very big numbers:

  • We are just 500 days away from the end of the Millennium Development Goals
  • Every year, 627,000 people die of malaria. (This is on many of our minds today, which is World Malaria Day.) 
  • Between 2011 and 2020, 50 million girls around the world will be married before they reach the age of 15.
  • There’s good news too, though. Measles deaths dropped by 71% between 2000 and 2011.
  • And perhaps the biggest number: 2030. “This is a number that can inspire us all,” Sherinian said. “We need to become a community of people who say, ‘I can’t afford today to live in my own silo.’” And we should do it before 2030, by which time the World Bank has called for an end to extreme poverty

Reluctant Innovators

What do potato chips, same-language subtitling, and solar-powered maternity wards all have in common? asked Ken Banks, founder of FrontlineSMS.

The answer: They were all discovered by accident.

“We have a habit of building technology for technology’s sake,” he said. Too often our enthusiasm for what’s possible eclipses our interest in building practical technology to address a specific problem or situation.  “The days of people jumping on planes with solutions that were built far, far away from the problems that they’re solving should be over,” Banks said. Homegrown innovators—the ones who are closest to the problem and know it best—are the ones best situated find solutions.

From Party Trick to Medical Breakthrough

“I am a mechanic,” said Jorge Odón. “But I’m going to have to talk about medicine now.”He held up a wine bottle, empty but for a cork rolling around in the bottom, and an empty plastic bag. We watched as he slowly pushed the bag into the bottle, inflated it with a few breaths, and maneuvered it around until it had grabbed hold of the cork. Marcella Odón, his wife, held tight to the bottle as Odón eased the cork out through bottle’s neck. There was a hearty round of applause.

That simple party trick gave Odón the idea for the Odón Device, an easy-to-use, low-cost, World Health Organization-endorsed apparatus that helps ease the way for babies stuck in the birth canal. The device has now been tested in 33 deliveries, 32 of which Odón attended, gathering ideas to fine tune his invention. Soon the device will appear in delivery rooms around the world, provided to low-income countries at production cost. But it’s been tough getting it out of his garage and into health facilities. “You have to pursue, you have to keep going,” Odón said. “Even if at first your idea sounds crazy.”

Google Glass for Telemedicine

“We cannot be sustainable without investing in the next generation of leaders,” said Pape Gaye, president and CEO of IntraHealth International. Then he introduced several of those young leaders, all finalists in the SwitchPoint silo-busting student competition. Students submitted their switchpoints in advance to compete for the chance to present their ideas on stage.

One finalist was Pranati Panuganti, a student at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill. Her switchpoint: Google Glass + burn treatment in low-income countries. Some 95% of burn injuries occur in low- and middle-income countries, where a shortage of burn specialists leaves many patients without sufficient care. That’s why Panuganti’s working with UNC’s Jaycee Burn Center to use Google Glass as a form of telemedicine, essentially allowing burn specialists in the US to see patients through the eyes of a health worker on the other side of the world and walk her through tough treatment processes. Meet more student finalists here.

Healthy Planet, Healthy People

The rainforest in the Congo Basin is the second-largest in the world. “If the forest goes, there is no chance for us,” said Godi Godar, founder of Go Conscious Earth. “We have to sustain it.” Logging and mineral extraction threatened the Nsoli rainforest in his native Lac Tumba region in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That’s why Godar fought to acquire the land rights to a million acres of those Bantomba ancestral lands. Keeping the forest healthy, he said, will help keep the native Bantomba people healthy.  “But preserving one million acres is just a start,” Godar said. “If you have a car engine and you never put any water in it to cool it, what happens? It overheats. That is how the rainforest functions for the earth. The rainforest is important to me, but it is also important to our planet.”

Learn more about what happened at SwitchPoint 2014 on Twitter and Instagram! And learn more about the SwitchPoint event here.