In the last few decades, we’ve made amazing progress in global health—and those of us who work in this field do like to talk about it. Without these stories, after all, the challenges of improving health and life seem insurmountable. But as Sam Lowenberg argued in the New York Times last week, we can learn from our failures, too. His commentary is especially fitting in a week that brought news of disappointing results from a tuberculosis vaccine trial and analysis of Bill Gates’ call for more careful and considered use of data and measurement to judge what’s working.
Learning from failure
The New York Times, February 1, 2013
Americans love success stories. Go to the websites of the United States Agency for International Development, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, or a plethora of global health and development organizations, and you’ll find articles, charts and videos documenting their triumphs and innovations, with the promise of more on the way.
Beyond simply doing good, there’s an impetus to show success: nongovernmental organizations, contractors, and researchers want a good track record, funding officials must show they are spending wisely, and journal editors want to highlight breakthroughs. But “success stories” are rarely the whole story.
What researchers can learn from a failed TB vaccine trial
TIME, February 4, 2013
A vaccine designed to protect infants against tuberculosis (TB) isn’t as effective as researchers had hoped. The MVA85A shot, which contains a large snippet of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacterium, couldn’t mount a strong enough immune response in babies to protect them from infection.
10 key takeaways from Bill Gates’ letter
Mashable, January 31, 2013
Bill Gates’ 2013 Annual Letter highlighted the power of data and measurement to help lift the world’s most needy up from poverty…”In previous annual letters, I’ve focused a lot on the power of innovation to reduce hunger, poverty, and disease,” Gates writes, explaining this year’s focus. “But any innovation—whether it’s a new vaccine or an improved seed—can’t have an impact unless it reaches the people who will benefit from it. That’s why in this year’s letter I discuss how innovations in measurement are critical to finding new, effective ways to deliver these tools and services to the clinics, family farms, and classrooms that need them.”
And now, back to a success story of another sort, from our PATH colleague and new mother Lauren Newhouse, writing on our sister blog at DefeatDD.
Defeatdd Blog, February 5, 2013
“The antibodies in your breast milk have prevented any serious illness.” At those words from the pediatrician, I pulled my head out of my hands, astonished.
There I was doubled up in the corner of the doctor’s office with a 104°F fever, a mask covering my face, and the worst stomach virus I had ever had. Yet, my two-month old son, who had been exposed to the same gut-wrenching bug, was lying on the exam table smiling and cooing. It seemed impossible that this tiny baby, whose immune system was not yet fully developed, could stave off what my mature immune system could not.