As a participant in the recent Pacific Health Summit, I was struck by the bold talk of innovative approaches to addressing the global threat of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB). And yet few of the projects that were presented involved partners from outside the public health community. (The lone exception at the conference was Chevron, which has made a big commitment to leadership on infectious disease through the Global Business Coalition.) Innovation requires openness. The two go hand in hand.
I was particularly disappointed that there were no mobile operators present, particularly from countries like South Africa and China that are hard hit by TB and increasingly vulnerable to a large scale MDR-TB epidemic (for more background on MDR-TB checkout my first post in this series). Both countries have first-world communications infrastructure and are great proving grounds for mobile health innovation (as we have learned with Project Masiluleke, frog's mHealth partnership that targets HIV/AIDS, a condition that is increasingly linked to TB).
Last month I attended the Pacific Health Summit in Seattle. It is a pretty exclusive venue (aspiring to be the "Davos of Health Care") attended by senior representatives from the world of health care and public policy (such as Dr. Anthony Fauci from the NIH, Dr. Margaret Chan from WHO, Chris Viehbacher CEO of sanofi-aventis and Tadataka Yamada who heads the Global Health program for the Gates Foundation). The conference chooses a specific challenge to focus on each year. This year's topic was Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR-TB)--more about that in a minute.
The venue provided a remarkable opportunity to reflect on the gaps between the promise and "delivery" of innovation. The design and business community have conspired over the last few years to polish up the term "innovation" to a high gloss. It is like Apple chrome now, this shiny gleaming element that can be applied to any surface. But what happens when innovation meets with the messy reality of domains like public health?