Global Health Ideas

Finding global health solutions through innovation and technology

Archive for October 2006

Pfizer Assists World Health Organization with Drug Discovery

On Oct. 26th Pfizer announced that it was going to give some researchers access to its compound library to search for targets that might lead to anti-parasitic medicines. Pfizer will also share cutting edge/industry methods for drug discovery for some of these disease catagories: malaria, leishmaniasis, African trypanosomiasis, onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis and Chagas’ disease. As far as I know this is one of the first times a major pharma company has opened up its compound library. You can read the full story here or here.

You can also reader further about strategies for developing drugs for neglected diseases in this article published last year.

Written by thd

October 31, 2006 at 6:58 pm

ICT and Global Health:Text Messaging for Safe Water

5170_largearticlephoto1.jpgThis story was found on a fantastic website: WorldChanging –“Cell phone ring tones are now music to the ears of the 35 million Bangladeshis at risk for numerous cancers and debilitating impairments from groundwater tainted with arsenic… colleagues at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University are working to reduce the exposure to arsenic through their development of an SMS… A pilot project incorporated data from 300,000 wells into the Welltracker database, which reports for each village the number of wells tested, the proportion of unsafe wells and, when available, the start depth together with an estimate of the probability that the estimate is correct. The information is well laid out along with video at WorldChanging, check it out.

From the Columbia University website:
Welltracker helps people in rural Bangladesh avoid arsenic poisoning occurring naturally in about 50% of private tube wells. Despite warnings from the government, many villagers cannot afford to dig tube wells deeper than 40ft. They continue to install shallow tube wells at a fast pace…Welltracker makes safe tube wells more affordable. Instead of the typical 800ft depth of a deep tube well, we use mathematics and statistics to find shallower safe depths. We encourage communities to invest in deep tube wells together. Our intention is to help set up an independent organization that provides loans and secures well investment with a money-back arsenic-free guarantee.”

Written by thd

October 31, 2006 at 5:58 pm

Where are the games (to educate on HIV/AIDS risks)?


In the same vein as tele-novelas scripted with socially responsible messages, several years ago Reliance Infocomm – a New Dehli communications and entertainment company – created four mobile phone-based games that teach HIV-prevention strategies as players navigate the various gaming worlds. The buzz on the net has been tremendous since the 2003 announcement of the Freedom HIV initiative. Yet this blogger has found that it’s much easier to locate the praises of the concept than to find the games. A search for Reliance Infocomm eventually deadended at Reliance Mobile World’s game station page without any links to the Freedom HIV gaming package. ZMQ software hosts the Freedom HIV link but the games themselves are only viewable as screenshots here. One would think such a noteworthy and socially responsible for-profit concept, with undisclosed amounts of the proceeds to benefit HIV/AIDS efforts, would be better marketed and readily available for download not only to mobile phones but interested gamers on PC platforms as well.

Written by thd

October 28, 2006 at 11:36 am

Safe Water Technology: PUR by Proctor & Gamble

twain.jpgwateravailability_test.jpgAs alluded to in an earlier post, safe drinking water and water availablity are enormous issues.

“Well over 2 billion people drink sewage contaminated water”– Dr. Steve Luby, CDC. And you can see from the graph that availabilty is decresasing in dramatic fashion. This month the World Business Council for Sustainable Development updated their case studies for water related issues. They released what looks to be quite a decent report here. Also the new case study on water is a point of use water solution by Procter & Gamble (P&G) which you can find here along with other case studies.

The P&G approach uses a “point of use” solution meaning that this may have “advantages of cost, immediate availability and ease of distribution to reach rural areas.” When I first saw this my first reaction from the WBC for Sustainable Business was how sustainable is this? What is the mechanism for distribution and what are the long term plans. It looks like, in conjunction with NGO partners, they are going to try three different approaches:

1. A social model led by non-profit organizations
2. A commercial model led by the private sector
3. An emergency relief model led by relief organization

I hope these approaches are in different areas or the models may cannibalize each others markets and incentives for private sector buying. Giving something away for free is not necessarily a good thing, it prevents local entrepreneurs from developing small businesses and hence potential long term sustainability. This is not always the case, but it is something to be aware of.

So what is the PUR SOLUTION? The technological innovation here is a detergent like mixture from Procter & Gamble. “PUR acts like a dirt magnate it, it pulls the dirt out of the water and removes the bacteria, viruses and the parasites and leaves behind clear, safe, drinkable water” – P&G. (quotes from this 1 min video). You can view the short video or you can see below a diagram of how it works:

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In conjunction with this case study, last month there was a press release indicating Procter and Gamble’s committment to this area. “P&G committed to providing 35 million liters of safe drinking water to more than 1 million children… As part of this announcement, P&G has committed to provide $3.8 million to a variety of partners in order to provide safe drinking water in Africa.” Full press release here.

In a future post we will cover sustainable point of use water technologies being developed by folks at UC Berkeley to give a different perspective.

Written by thd

October 26, 2006 at 5:59 pm

USAID, “Last Mile” ICT Initiative

Global health tasks can be conceptually divided into research, disease surveillance, health education, and health programs. In much of the developing world populations are quickly connecting to telecommunication networks via mobile phone systems. As new wireless systems come online, there is great potential to expand current global health activities. There are difficulties, however, in building the “last mile” of communications systems. To help bridge that information and communication technology (ICT) divide, USAID has funded engineering research through the Last Mile Initiative. The effort was recently profiled on the Development Gateway.


In the fall of 2005, under the supervision of Principal Investigator, Dr. Michael Best, thirteen students from the Georgia Institute of Technology came together as USAID Last Mile ICT Initiative (LMI) Innovation Fellows. This activity took place within the framework of USAID’s Last Mile Innovation Committee managed by dot-ORG. The students’ job was to provide fresh and dynamic new perspectives into LMI programs in Africa, S.E. Europe, and Latin America. These student research fellows came from every major discipline represented at Georgia Tech, including International Affairs, Computer Science, Industrial Engineering, Engineering Psychology, Mechanical Engineering, and Industrial Design. The results of these activities are contained in a volume titled “Last Mile Initiative Innovations: Research Findings from the Georgia Institute of Technology”

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Written by thd

October 26, 2006 at 1:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Intel’s Committment to Global Health

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Two weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend the Digital Healthcare Conference being sponsored by Intel. This conference was about the role of IT reshaping healthcare in the US and so you could imagine my surprise when Doug Busch, Intel VP and CTO of the Digital Health Group, introduced his excellent talk with reference to Intel projects in the Amazon. While only 10% of his talk was on global health and development, he also closed with more references to this project. I thought it was a big deal to have an intro and a conclusion both focused on global health for an audience that was there for commerical US based IT products.

I had known about Intel’s supposed committment to global health with the formation of the new Digital Health Group last year, however I was skeptical. My skepticism of their intent was erased at this industry and domestically focused conference.

You can learn more about Intel’s “World Ahead” Program here. Further, their committment is indicated in their healthcare policy proposal #3. Finally an Intel news release last month on the Amazon project has some information on their healthcare projects.

In future posts we plan to discuss other IT corporations involvement in global health and the mixed results that have been prodcued. Intel seems to have joined the game later than the others and this may be a good thing. More to come…

UPDATE – the IFC Blog on emerging markets has an additional take on Intel’s purpose.

Written by thd

October 24, 2006 at 6:19 pm

The Power of Image in Public Health Education: China 1930-2004

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“A declaration of a war on SARS using a 1960s image”

In the realm of ICT (information and communciation technology) we have a current tendency to focus on the internet and mobile phone technology. Yesterday, while I was at the NIH campus, I was reminded of the powerful use of another form of ICTs – posters and poster advertisements. The NIH has a collection of over 7000 posters documenting public health and Chinese society from 1930s to SARS.

A visiting scholar (Dr. Liping Bu) in charge of this project discusses the importance of tactics for reaching people on a mass scale: “Say you have a public health problem whose scale is vast: a population of 500 million, with 90% living in the countryside, where the literacy rate is 5% and life expectancy is 35 years. Malnutrition is stark. Disease and mortality rates are atrocious – millions of cases of cholera, smallpox, typhoid, malaria, TB and schistosomiasis. Meanwhile, the country is emerging from decades of conflict, foreign invasion and civil war. This was China, 1949…Later in 1965 85-90% of the population lived in rural areas and 80% of health care workers lived in cities. A massive public health campaign was born that included ‘barefoot doctors’…While only 40% of barefoot doctors were women, a female was used as the public image which helped advance the idea of women as workers of equal status with men…the posters have played a key role in educating the public” The NIH poster collection can be found here.

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“In 1965, a massive public health campaign used posters touting barefoot doctors”

Posters have been a powerful force in shaping public opinion because propagandists have long known that visual impressions are extremely strong. People may forget a newspaper article but most remember a picture… The main objective of posters…is to influence attitudes…to alter the consciousness of the public to bring about an improvement in health practices.”- William H. Helfand, National Library of Medicine.

Written by thd

October 24, 2006 at 4:50 pm

Posted in Uncategorized