Myth: there aren’t enough lifesaving ideas

A man writes on a whiteboard while a woman and a man watch.

It’s a long road between the whiteboard and implementation. Photo: PATH/Patrick McKern.

Recently, Bill and Melinda Gates released their annual letter, which took on three persistent myths that block progress for the poor. In the same spirit, this week we’re debunking six myths that impede progress in global health. Today we take on:

To improve the lives of the world’s poorest people, we need more good ideas.

Portrait of Anurag Mairal.

Anurag Mairal says a good idea is only the beginning. Photo: PATH/Patrick McKern.

Mythbuster: Anurag Mairal, leader of the Technology Solutions Program at PATH.

While creative new ideas are important, the landscape of the global health and development sector is littered with really great and innovative ideas that ultimately did not reach the people who might have benefited.

We do not lack for good ideas. The real challenge comes in moving the best ideas through the innovation pipeline to reach the ultimate goal: scaled, manufactured, commercialized, and community-accepted interventions that improve thousands or millions of lives.

From idea to implementation

As a technologist, I have seen countless great ideas sketched on whiteboards. But there are many hills and roadblocks on the long road between the whiteboard and implementation: engineering, prototyping, testing, manufacturing, regulatory approval, market-shaping and commercialization, supply chain management, community acceptance, and adoption, to name but a few.

It takes a smart and diverse team to move even the best ideas through these difficult stages. It takes inventors and scientists, but also public health experts, project managers, commercialization and supply chain experts, policy wonks and advocates, lawyers and intellectual property specialists, marketers, and more. We need all of them working in partnership with the target community at every stage to ensure that, at the end of the road, the bright idea finds acceptance in homes, clinics, or commercial markets.

Toast the real successes

PATH has been moving innovation along this road to implementation for almost four decades, and we have learned that the moment to pop the champagne is not when brilliance is sketched on a napkin. It’s the moment when the hundredth prototype solves a key design issue and drops the unit price in half, finally making a lifesaving solution affordable for the people who need it. Or when the perfect manufacturing partner comes aboard. Or when a government or agency grants regulatory approval or changes a policy to enable more efficient distribution to remote clinics. Or when local shop owners in affected communities eagerly stock the new product, helping their neighbors while simultaneously raising their own fortunes by earning a fair profit.

We will always need new ideas. But ideas are just the beginning.

The series:

Women don’t need a condom.

Diseases like cancer don’t affect low-income countries.

Diarrhea is rarely fatal.

Women don’t die in childbirth anymore.

There aren’t enough lifesaving ideas.

Malaria is unstoppable.

More information

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2 Responses to Myth: there aren’t enough lifesaving ideas

  1. Pingback: Debunking the malaria myth | Making Malaria History

  2. We are the followers. Someone coins a term and we blindly follow it. The term to be used and referred from now onwards by the followers like us is “myth” in development sector. Similarly, someone coined the word, “innovative” and this has got stuck to our minds to an extent that even if something is not practical at all, we just try to be innovative. What is more innovative than clean, and safe water? What is more innovative than education? What is more innovative than valuing life? These were innovations of the past century, and yet there are billions who do not have access to these innovations, that are no more innovative to Gates and his colleagues. But I do not blame him. He is surrounded by scientists like me. I am struggling for our own survival. My survival is to bring something to the market that is “mine” and no one else has it. It can be an idea, or a technology. And then I become the god of this idea/technology and stop listening to others. I become blind. I become so much focused to my own baby that I ignore the problem. I just promote what I have, and do not care the misery and the pain the world is suffering from. This results to “myths” and this promotes to failure in improvements in the health of the billions that are less concerned about ‘novelty’, ‘innovation’, and ‘myths’.

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