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Technology, Innovation, and Young People: the Future of Global Health

Innovation, technology, and young people have been at the forefront of my mind lately.

It started with my engagement with the many talented students last month at the Clinton Global Initiative University in San Diego and was fueled by my participation as a judge in the Be the Change: Save a Life Maternal Health Challenge, a contest sponsored by ABC News and the Duke Global Health Institute.

Tomorrow, I will be at the second annual TEDxChapelHill event, sponsored by IntraHealth. I hope many of you will join me on Thursday at the Varsity Theatre in Chapel Hill to hear about the growing number of innovative technologies—and innovators—that are improving health care in the developing world. Please check out our event page to learn more. We will be hearing from:

  • Chancellor Holden Thorp of University of North Carolina on innovations in science, medicine, communications, and technology as they relate to global health
  • Dr. Radhika Chigurupati of Sana on the potential of telemedicine technologies to increase access to health services to remote, rural communities around the world
  • Jon Gosier of Appfrica and Ushahidion the technology innovations created in Africa by African developers for disaster relief worldwide including crowdsourcing and crisis mapping
  • Jonathan Kuniholm of Open Prostheticson how open access to prosthetics hardware designs is exponentially increasing access to life-enhancing prosthetics for those in need
  • Robert A. Malkin of Duke Universityon ongoing efforts around the world to develop alternative, low-cost medical devices that improve health care delivery in low-resource settings
  • Josh Nesbit of Medic Mobile and IntraHealth board member on the application of mHealth technologies to improve the delivery of health care services and information.

It is an exciting lineup, and one that promises to provide a unique focus on how new technologies—from medical devices, cell phones, and communication technologies to diagnostics—are the future of global health.

When I think about all of these events, what really stands out to me is the importance of innovation, research, and partnership. We have to recognize, too, that innovation does involve taking risks, being daring, and yes, sometimes failing. For many traditional-minded organizations, the specific mandate or funding sources of the organization can make this kind of work difficult or impossible. Yet we must realize the tremendous value and potential of trying new things, even when there is no guarantee they will work. In many developing countries, there is too little funding to support research—although there are many potential innovators, many great ideas, and numerous challenges to take on.

This is where I think there is a lot to learn from partnerships like the one a group of engineering students from John Hopkins formed as a part of the Be the Change contest. This team developed an antenatal screening kit to screen pregnant women and newborns for life-threatening conditions. The kit will provide health workers with a specially designed pen to conduct the tests. Each pen costs less than half a penny each; the pens have been field tested in Nepal, in collaboration with Jhpiego and other organizations. It’s a collaboration that pairs the innovative outside-the-box thinking of students with experts in the field.

This kind of collaboration is the way forward, as are multisectoral approaches in global health. I saw much of both during the Clinton Global Initiative University last month. At the session I moderated on human resources for health, a large proportion of the participants were not trained in or focused on public health. Instead, the Clinton Global Initiative University succeeded in getting people from many sectors—education, poverty alleviation, and the environment—to think about global health. These inventive partnerships, alongside growing collaboration with the private sector, make this a very promising time to be working in global health.

Join me Thursday to hear even more about innovation, technology, and global health at TEDxChapelHill.