Global Health Ideas

Finding global health solutions through innovation and technology

Archive for May 2008

Global Health Council 4: Coming Full Circle with Aravind

Aman already reported on the Aravind Eye Care System (AECS) being awarded the prestigious 2008 Gates Award for Global Health, which “honors extraordinary efforts to improve health in developing countries”.  And as Aman mentioned, three of us at this blog owe a big debt to the Aravind organization, first for allowing us to work with them starting in 2004 in studying the Aurolab model, and second for launching us into the arena of technology, innovation, and global health.  More than 4 years after we began our relationship with Aravind, I found myself at my poster talking with Dr. Nam and Dr. Ravi about medical licensing for recent graduates in India and Mongolia.  (Similar policies of requiring graduates to work in rural areas between medical school and residency.)

The photo below is from after the awards ceremony on Thursday night.  L-R: Dr. R.D. Ravindran, Chief Medical Officer of the Pondicherry hospital, Dr. P. Naperumalsamy, me.  Thanks to Suzanne Gilbert, Director of the SEVA Foundation, Center for Innovation in Eye Care, for taking the photo.  She was also instrumental in getting us started in this field, so it was great to reconnect with her here in DC.

Dr. Nam’s award acceptance speech on behalf of AECS followed up a short film about Aravind and a detailed telling of the Aravind story by William Gates, Sr.  Some new directions I learned from his speech:

  1. Aravind has signed an MOU with China to increase the number of cataract surgeries done there
  2. They have an increased emphasis on information technology for supporting and extending services
  3. They aim to provide 1 million cataract surgeries per year within 5 years (currently 280,000)
  4. On October 1st, they will dedicate a research institute named after Dr. V

Dr. Nam closed by saying: “We have done something through Aravind, but there is much more to be done.”

Global Health Council 3: From Grassroots to Policy

The special session Primary Health Care: A New Vision for the Fourth Decade just finished.  WHO Director-General Margaret Chan was in attendance, but is not speaking until later in the day.  I missed the beginning, so I’m just sharing some select comments.

Dr. Ahbay Bang, director of Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health (SEARCH) in India.  [Right now he’s not listed as a speaker on that panel, but he was there.]

He described research as the vehicle for grassroots work to affect policy.  Three key points he addressed:

  1. Research must begin with people, not libraries.  He described how he gets new research ideas “from the people”.  In Geneva some years back, his colleagues asked him “How come you can see problems 10 years ahead of time?”  HIs response? “I’m 10 years nearer to the people.” The secret, which he shared with us today, was having the community help define the research problems.
  2. “Meticulous, rigorous measurement”.  (“Nothing exists unless it is measured.”)
  3. Research also needs to be about equity.  We need to go beyond the clinical, epidemiological, legal, and biomedical research to consider the political, cultural, economic, and organizational.
One statement that evoked applause from the audience – at a time when applause wasn’t expected – came from PAHO director Mirta Roses Periago in response to a question about why primary healthcare had failed over the last 30 years: “Primary healthcare didn’t fail.  It was crushed.”

Written by Jaspal

May 30, 2008 at 9:32 am

$1Million Gates Award Goes to Aravind!

We have talked about the Aravind Eye Care System quite a bit before and have published several academic articles on Aravind. One is forthcoming in the July 2008 issue of the journal Health Affairs which is focused on India and China. So I was thrilled to hear that Aravind won the 2008 Global Health Council Gates Award. We were very fortunate to receive a fellowship to goto Aravind in the summer of 2004 and that is were our interest in innovation and health really became solidified and this is eventually what led to the creation of this blog. The folks at Aravind (which includes Aurolab) are truly remarkable people, this award is well deserved.

The Aravind clinic started in 1976 in a 11 bed rented house and today is probably the largest eye care system in the world. Their mission is to eradicate blindness in developing regions, which is primarily due to cataracts. Aurolab is the non-profit medical device and pharmaceutical manufacturing arm of Aravind. For a quick overview on Aravind see this Wall Street Journal piece or this Fast Company article and see this video (35 min, Link). Basic facts about Aravind & Aurolab:

– 2/3rds of patients receive some sort of charity care, 1/3 pay above cost
– 280,000 cataract surgeries per year
– 5 hospitals across the state of Tamil Nadu, over 1000 beds
– 1300 community eye camps
– 2 Million outpatient visits per year

– Export products to over 120 nations
– Reduced price of synthetic lenses (IOL) for cataract surgery to under $10
– FDA compliant facility
– IOL, suture, pharmaceutical, spectacle and hearing aid divisions
– Globally unique due to scale and non profit status

Blindness due to cataracts is a substantial problem in developing countries. Aravind and Aurolab managed to build infrastructure, systems and manufacture core medical technologies at the local level that allowed them to chart their own course. Instead of relying on a non-sustainable donor model, they decided to build their own system and self-manufacture their own technologies and still manage to make a substantial profit.

Some of the factors of success include: solid management, charismatic leadership, clear socially driven mission and unwavering persistence. Of course there are many other factors, see our case study for more information on how they built partnerships, transferred technology and charted their own direction. Finally, one very important ingredient, is that it takes time (see historical milestones). Aravind was started in the mid 1970s and Aurolab was founded in 1992. They faced various challenges, learned from their mistakes and over the course of 3 decades built a world renowned system.

Others have also covered this award, see:
ThinkChange India
The Scientific Indian (whose grandfather was treated at Aravind)

Global Health Council 2: “Small is beautiful, but big is necessary”

Yesterday’s plenary session The First Mile: Setting the Framework for Effective Community Health Systems was a global health conference experiment.  The session linked the Global Health Council Conference (Washington, D.C.) to the Geneva Health Forum by video conference.  Keep in mind these were sessions attended by hundreds of people on both sides.  Louis Loutan, who modertated from Geneva, a self-professed “technical skeptic”, was so impressed by the technical success of the video conference that he proposed it as a model that we need to consider for future meetings.

Both meetings had complementary themes this year: “Community Health” and “Strengthening Health Systems and the Global Health Workforce”, respectively.  This session brought together these themes in the context of community health systems. 

Here’s who was involved from each side:

  • Sigrun Møgedal, HIV/AIDS Ambassador, NORAD, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway
  • Frank K. Nyonator, Director, Policy, Planning, Monitoring, and Evaluation Division, Ghana Health Service, Ghana  
  • Halfdan Mahler, Former Director-General WHO, Switzerland
  • Moderator: Louis Loutan, MD, Head, Service of International and Humanitarian Medicine, Department of Community Medicine of Primary Care, University Hospitals, Geneva, Switzerland
Washington, D.C.:
  • Fazle Hasan Abed, Founder and Chair, Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC)
  • Gretchen Glode Berggren, MD, MScHyg, Consultant, International Health and Nutrition
  • Molly Melching, Founder and Executive Director, Tostan
  • Moderator: Nils Daulaire, MD, MPH, President and CEO, Global Health Council

I’m really happy that I attended this session because of the shift in thinking that it seems to represent.  Key quotes from each of the 6 people on the panels (tried to get quotes verbatim, but will be off by a few words):

  • “Health must not only be seen as a whole internally, but also externally as an integral part of social and economic development.” -Mahler [he had a beautiful metaphor involving kaleidoscopes, but I didn’t capture it – he also quoted Mark Twain and Niels Bohr]
  • “Maybe we can’t do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” -Berggren, quoting Mother Teresa who said this at the Global Health Council Conference in the 1980’s
  • “Doing holistic healthcare was hard, it was messy … it lost its energy” -Møgedal
  • “We need someone nearby, who tells us what’s wrong, what to do, and where to go.” – Nyonator, quoting an opinion leader from a community in Nigeria describing what is needed in terms of healthcare workforce
  • “If 10 people dig, and 10 people fill, we have plenty of dust, but no hole.” -Melching, citing one of her favorite African proverbs
  • “Small is beautiful, but big is necessary.” -Abed, describing BRAC’s village health worker system in Bangladesh

There were five themes throughout the session that stood out to me:

  1. Revisiting Alma-Ata
  2. Collective impatience
  3. Listen to the people
  4. Changing social norms
  5. Community health workers
The issue of food security was a recurrent one throughout.  The overall message was that there needs to be an increased emphasis on holistic primary healthcare using community resources, that understanding social norms was critical to success in improving health, and that this will take time.
Revisiting Alma-Ata
  • Why it came up: the WHO Declaration of Alma-Ata (PDF) is celebrating its 30th anniversary in September, Dr. Mahler directed the creation of the declaration, the WHO has recently recommitted to strengthening primary health care, and the theme of both conferences and this session were very relevant to Alma-Ata
  • There was a “total betrayal of Alma-Ata within months” because structural adjustment programs (e.g. FMI) “sapped energy” from health systems and “made it impossible for developing countries to conduct experiments necessary to test the recommendations achieved by global consensus” -Mahler
  • At the time, one of Mahler’s colleagues told him “It is not doable. We must only do what is doable.”
  • Alma-Ata is about “bottom-up” approaches and “social justice” -Møgedal
  • “It’s not about convincing your adversaries that they’re wrong, but it’s about uniting with your adversaries at a higher level of insight.” -Mahler
Collective impatience
  • “It takes time.” “We suffer from ‘Instant Coffee Syndrome’.” -Berggren
  • Møgedal spoke of an impatience that we have in addressing the problems of global health in the context of a “broad-based global health push”.
Listening to the people
  • “Let’s go back and listen to the people.” “Everyone deserves a home visit.” “We must return to be more in touch with people.” -Berggren
  • We need to think “where people are” and “what makes a difference to people” -Møgedal
Changing social norms
  • “We must change social norms.” -Nyonator
  • Melching spoke of the role of social networks and testimonials (not her words) in effecting behavior change in FGC (female genital cutting) with Tostan in West Africa.  She called this the “organized diffusion approach”.  The goal was “widespread change of social norms.”
  • We need “change agents and fieldworkers.” -Abed
Community health workers
  • “How come we keep talking about community health workers without talking about the support that they need?” “Work at each problem … solution in each context.” -Møgedal
  • “Community-based health workers need extra arms and legs.” “We must work with groups.” -Berggren

Written by Jaspal

May 28, 2008 at 9:54 am

Global Health Council 1: Social Marketing

On Tuesday of the conference, I attended the Social Marketing to Facilitate Behavior Change and Action workshop.  I personally found it to be very educational, although I did have one gripe (see #3 below).  A few thoughts I had during the workshop:

(1) Creating new products and the lead user. In describing the role of social marketing, the facilitators considered the question “how do we make the choice easier [for adopting healthier behaviors]?”.  Their answer was “creating new products” and the example they gave was the LifeStraw.  A woman from Vestergaard-Frandsen, the company that makes LifeStraw, was in the audience and shared the story of the conceptual development of the product – it seems this was a case of a lead user.  One of the fieldworkers who worked on a national Guinea worm eradication campaign created her/his own life straw with reed and some mesh for local use.

(2) Social marketing and social design ethnography. The reason I went to this workshop was to establish a better understanding of how my work relates to social marketing.  My work uses applied ethnography for the purposes of design in global health, not just products, but also services and systems.  While there is considerable overlap, the idea of creating new products felt like an awkward fit within the framework of social marketing.  I expect it was there because it has no other home (e.g. social product design).  The danger in placing it in the context of social marketing is that it may ignore the considerable knowledge we have developed and are developing in the field of human-centered design.  There is also a difference in the methods.  Ethnographic research seems play a minor role in social marketing, and as in many fields, the label ethnographic seems to be used fairly loosely.

(3) Know your audience.  The majority of examples (not all) in the workshop were drawn from the US context (e.g. commercial advertisements, surveys, anecdotes), and further weren’t well-contextualized.  Not what I expected at a global health conference, with a very international group, where the focus of the workshop was “know your audience”.

(4) Adapt, don’t adopt. One of global health’s strengths is that it borrows from so many diverse fields.  The dangers with this are in simply adopting the idea rather than adapting it to the contexts of global health. In the case of social marketing the ideas that have been borrowed are framework (effect behavior change), process (how to understand your consumer), and theory (behavior change models).  The typical dangers of doing this are: (a) what is borrowed can be viewed as gospel (e.g. if Madison Ave. does it this way, it must be right) or (b) the ideas don’t progress as they do in the original field (e.g. is social marketing making use of advances in commercial marketing?  is it evolving on its own?).  I still don’t know enough about social marketing to argue this, but I’ve seen this pattern with other ideas that have been borrowed across fields.

(5) “We’ve already been doing this”. One of the audience members brought up the fact that people have been doing this for a long time in many places and that it simply hasn’t had the “social marketing” label.  Agreed, but in my opinion – and that of the facilitators – the value is in the framework.  By creating a formal way of thinking, we can improve the social marketing work that people have been doing by other names, and bring it to people who haven’t been thinking in these terms.

Ben was there for part of the workshop and may have more thoughts.

Update from Aman – here are some other great resources in the area of social marketing:

Written by Jaspal

May 28, 2008 at 8:35 am

Ben and Jaspal’s Excellent Adventure at the Global Health Council

Jaspal and Ben will both be at the Global Health Council meeting in DC next week (Only some of you will get the bad movie reference above). If anyone would like to meet up drop us an email at THDBLOG at gmail dot com.
From Ben (cross posted):

I’m leaving Berkeley early to hike a short segment of the Appalachian Trail this Memorial Day weekend before next week’s conference. There will be two presentations on OBA in East Africa. Tuesday 3-5pm Claus Janisch will talk about the Kenya OBA program for targeted subsidies for antenatal and maternal delivery services. Look for the panel A2: “Getting Creative: Innovative Models for Health Care Financing“.

Thursday 2:30-4:30 Richard Lowe presents the eponymous Uganda OBA program’s “Output-Based Aid Program to Treat Sexually Transmitted Infections in Uganda”. Not sure why it’s currently booked in the “Chronic Disease” roundtable section; it’s scheduled for the Ambassador Ballroom (hotel map). I’ll update this post if the room changes. Readers may be interested too checking out the Abt Associates’ Private Sector panel scheduled 1-4:30pm Tuesday.

From Jaspal:

I’ll be checking in to the conference on Monday night and will be there through the end of the week.  On Thursday (29-May), I’ll participate in the Human Resources in Health, Community Health Workers poster session.  I’m still planning my schedule for the week, but do know I’ll attend the Get Smart: Technology and Community Health session hosted by AED.

Written by Aman

May 22, 2008 at 10:39 pm

Posted in Conferences, Global Health

Tagged with

Advancing the Global Good through Partnerships – Usha Balakrishnan

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to steal a few hours of Usha Balakrishnan’s time. I first saw Usha at the Global Health Council meeting in 2006 and was both wowed and inspired – she is a global health mover and shaker with strong business, technology and non-profit experience (read her bio here). She is now devoting her life to a broad range of global health issues. I am writing about our conversation here just to introduce Usha and her new non-profit, CARTHA. We had a refreshing dialogue about a wide variety topics and also about challenges in global health. For example while there has been a very recent surge of interest in global health as a field or major at the university level, we wondered where all the new trainees where going to go and whether there was adequate infrastructure to support smart placements of students eager to give back.

The panel I saw Usha lead at GHC was “The Role of the Private Sector” which had a great line up. As a “founder of the Technology Managers for Global Health (TMGH) group within the Association of University Technology Managers, Usha has introduced global health-related academic technology transfer sessions at key conferences, and has spurred dialog and seminars on a number of campuses in the US and abroad”.

Usha has recently formed her own non-profit – CARTHA which “provides education, training, and professional development programs to inspire Collaborative Doers…—who leverage academic practitioner collaborations to enhance the positive impact of technological and social innovations. CARTHA aims to inspire, link, and help mobilize resources for Collaborative Doers in Academic-Public-Private Technology Transfer Partnerships, Global Health and Corporate Social Responsibility.”

“Global health challenges demand that thinkers and doers from multiple disciplines, sectors, and regions—be linked in new multisectoral collaborations to generate innovative, pragmatic, culturally-appropriate and sustainable solutions. Who will design and build the bridges to connect, activate, and leverage the stores of institutional resources, human capital, and scientific and technological prowess to advance global health causes?”

I encourage you to look into CARTHA and TMGH more, we certainly need more people like Usha who are using their considerable experience to contribute to a global goods “market” and who are enabling others to do the same. We will try to do an interview with Usha in a few months with more detailed advice, perspective and information.

Written by Aman

May 22, 2008 at 10:09 pm

Posted in Global Health

Global Health Job Trends is a job search engine that I have found to be pretty decent. I got an idea of looking at job trends from this post looking at the job collapse in certain sectors (which certainly passes the smell test from everything we know). There are several reasons why the below graph could be inaccurate, but it is still fun to look at and keep any eye on over time:

Written by Aman

May 19, 2008 at 8:07 pm

Posted in Global Health, Trends

Friday Fun – America’s News Diet

The video says it all – from the TED conference which is made less exclusive by their posting of the tremendous lecturers they attract:

Written by Aman

May 15, 2008 at 9:21 pm

Posted in Global Health

New Focus on South-South Collaboration at

“This week, SciDev.Net publishes a set of articles outlining the advantages and challenges – of
South-South research collaboration…[this new focus] explores ways of b uilding research capacity that do not rely on ‘Northern’ expertise.”

* Policy brief on logic of South-South research collaboration, outlining the opportunities and
challenges, and providing conclusions on what makes them successful, Link

* Athar Osama argues that a substantial amount of further research is needed in order to identify more
accurately the key factors behind success, Link

* As a practical example of what collaboration can achieve, Thomas Egwang, a prominent Ugandan
researcher, describes how regional cooperation between scientists has boosted malaria research in Sub Saharan Africa, Link

* Mohamed Hassan, executive director of the Academy of Sciences of the Developing World (TWAS), argues that collaboration works best when each partner has already established a strong domestic research base, Link

* In an interview with Carla Almeida, Jacob Palis, president of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences
sketches out the possible future growth of South-South research collaboration, Link

* Dinesh Abrol and Purnima Rupal provide a brief analysis of the factors behind the recent growth in
research collaboration between India and China, Link

Written by Aman

May 15, 2008 at 7:16 pm

Posted in Global Health

Good Dove Bad Dove

Both of these videos are worth watching, they get at the interesting dilemma faced by multinational corporations. The first video is made by Dove and is pro-girl, the second video is a parody of the first. One interesting fact to keep in mind – Unilever, the maker of Dove products is the largest user of palm oil in the world (hat tip ocosio):

Written by Aman

May 13, 2008 at 8:43 pm

Posted in Global Health

Global Health Conference at Simon Fraser U

Wanted to let you know about a global health conference next week:

Meeting the Challenge: the Millennium Development Goals and Beyond

Simon Fraser University is hosting the sixth annual WRIHC May 23-25. Previous conferences have been held at the University of Washington, and the Oregon Health Sciences University, drawing more than 1000 participants from a wide variety of disciplines. This year some of the specialty topics include:

* Environment, Health and Climate Change
* Not Forgotten: Invisible Populations and the MDGs
* Conflict and Human Rights
* Mental Health In Global Perspective

Written by Aman

May 13, 2008 at 8:00 pm

Posted in Global Health

Against the Odds: Making a Difference in Global Health

The National Library of Medicine, the world’s largest medical library, has a new exhibit –Against the Odds: Making a Difference in Global Health. I haven’t had a chance to fully check it out yet, but I wanted to share this info.

Located on the campus of the National Institutes of Health (just outside of Washington, DC), the exhibit examines the revolution in global health taking place in towns and cities around the world. Free of charge and open to the public, this exhibition introduces some of the scientists, advocates, communities, and organizations who have made a difference—working together, against the odds, for the benefit of all.

Prior to the public opening on April 17th, the Library held an opening program featuring a global health panel moderated by CNN medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen featuring young activists and health advocates featured in the exhibit. A webcast of the panel is available for viewing here:

The approximately 4,000 square foot exhibit is comprised of six different sections including:

  • Food for Life; Brazil and its citizens are featured in this area of the exhibit as the country is currently facing an epidemic of obesity as well as a lingering crisis of hunger and malnutrition.
  • Action on AIDS; In the face of discrimination, negligence, stigma, and ignorance, advocates for health and human rights have fought against the spread of the disease.
  • An End to Violence; Physicians and campaigners have used evidence gathered by medical personnel and the testimony of witnesses to highlight the terrible toll of warfare. This work has led to treaties banning the use of landmines and agreements against nuclear weapons testing.

Additional information can be found at

The exhibit web site also contains interactive features for those not able to visit such as:
* Games and instructional resources for students and educators
* Global health perspective database, where readers can join in the dialogue
* Monthly columns from global thought leaders

Written by Aman

May 11, 2008 at 8:51 pm

Posted in Global Health