Mapping the Journey: how we turn good ideas into large-scale solutions

Today we’re launching a multi-part series, Mapping the Journey, that explores how PATH turns ideas into solutions that bring equity, dignity, and health to women, children, and families worldwide. This is the first installment of the series.

Child receives oral vaccine while others look on.

In 2014, children in Laos were vaccinated against Japanese encephalitis for the first time. The vaccine’s journey took more than a decade of effort from PATH and our partners, finally receiving World Health Organization approval earlier that year. Photo: PATH/Aaron Joel Santos.

In a world that’s always innovating, there’s no shortage of great ideas that can help people live healthier lives. New technologies. Strategies that accelerate the slow development of drugs and vaccines. Novel partnerships that cross continents and sectors. Yet many ideas never get the chance to make an impact—at great human cost.

The journey from idea to real, large-scale solution is complex

Barriers and pitfalls, from regulatory hurdles to deep-seated cultural beliefs, can prevent even the most promising ideas from succeeding. But the odds of success can be greatly increased when those ideas have a creative guide who knows how to navigate the journey—a guide like PATH.


Ideas move through a long and complicated journey before they can have widespread impact.

We call the process of moving from idea to impact the “journey of innovation.” And at every stage, there’s work to be done:

  • Adapting a design for low-resource settings.
  • Shepherding a new medication through approval.
  • Working alongside communities with the will, but not the tools, to protect their children.
  • Expanding access to vital care where it’s needed around the world.

It takes tenacity, know-how, and commitment to see the journey through. And that’s where PATH comes in.

A closeup of Sayana Press being injected into an arm.

In 2012, multiple partners, including PATH, committed to delivering Sayana® Press, a long-acting injectable contraceptive to four countries in Africa in order to increase contraceptive choice and access. Administered in the simple, single-use Uniject™ injection system that PATH developed, Sayana® Press has cleared multiple hurdles on its journey to scale. Photo: PATH/Will Boase.

Nothing should stand in the way of solutions reaching the people who need them most

We believe it’s unacceptable that people around the world continue to be devastated by preventable disease, when we know that innovation can change it. So we identify and cultivate promising ideas that can transform health—and make sure nothing stands in their way. We collaborate with a wide variety of partners, from researchers to manufacturers to local governments as we keep solutions moving toward impact. And we’ve earned a track record of constantly innovating to get those solutions to the people who need them most.

Graphic showing time to grow the plant versus the time to synthesize artemesinin.

Our partnership with researchers and industry led to a key malaria treatment innovation. Artemisinin, an essential plant-derived ingredient in key malaria medications (ACTs), can now be manufactured with a semisynthetic ingredient in three months, ensuring a more reliable supply. Infographic: PATH.

We transform the way health solutions are developed and delivered

We’re not afraid of complicated work. And we’re inspired by the partners who travel the journey with us—whether in the laboratory or the factory, in a government hall or the village square. joi-bug_blog-link

Behind every innovation, and at every stage in the journey, there are stories to share. Stories of ingenuity, commitment, and compassion. Stories of scientific discovery and of heroes who are changing their families and communities.

We look forward to sharing a few of these stories with you over the next eight weeks.

Other posts in this series

Sayana® Press is a registered trademark of Pfizer Inc. and/or its affiliates. Uniject™ is a trademark of BD.

5 lessons learned to achieve impact with global innovations

Young man receiving a vaccine at the MenAfriVac launch.

To be successful, we need to think about launch and scale-up at every stage of a project. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

By Steve Brooke, commercialization advisor at PATH, and David Milestone, senior market access advisor at USAID’s Center for Accelerating Innovation and Impact.

What separates impactful global health innovations from the rest? We have spent the better part of our careers thinking about questions just like that. And yet, we have not found a short or simple answer. But, we have uncovered many useful lessons.

IDEA to IMPACT: A Guide to Introduction and Scale of Global Health Innovations booklet cover.

Read “IDEA to IMPACT: A Guide to Introduction and Scale of Global Health Innovations.” Photo: PATH/Patrick McKern.

Some of these lessons are featured in a new resource we developed together. “IDEA to IMPACT: A Guide to Introduction and Scale of Global Health Innovations” by USAID’s Center for Accelerating Innovation and Impact (CII), highlights the challenges of achieving scale and impact, and uses case studies to draw out best practices and practical tips.

Drawing from our individual experiences, the guide, and reflections from panelists at a launch event that USAID and PATH co-hosted with The Aspen Institute, we sat down and challenged ourselves to summarize our five top takeaways on what it takes to achieve scale and impact with global health innovations.

Two women in colorful saris stand holding materials.

Health care workers are an integral part to the success of a mother’s group project in India. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

1. Start with the people

This maxim lies at the heart of good product development. It is important to listen to and observe users to better understand their needs. PATH learned this firsthand on our work on various water filtration systems. Everything from preferred color to size of a standard drinking cup needed to be considered for each different context.

woman drinking from a cup of water she poured from a water filter she owns as part of the Safe Water Project.

Observing how people use a product is just as important as surveys and focus groups. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

We’ve also found that while surveys and focus groups are incredibly useful, sometimes user observation is necessary. With our C1 water filter project we handed users a box of parts and didn’t call ourselves successful until they could assemble it without instructions.

A case study from Design that Matters (featured in the guide) also illustrates the importance of incorporating the needs of manufacturers and distributors into product design. It is important to consider all the users—not just end-users—in the ecosystem that will take a solution to impact.

Three vaccine coolers on tables covered with white cloths, white-clad health workers sit behind them.

Health workers in Burkina Faso wait to open their vaccine carriers at the launch of a meningitis A vaccination campaign. PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

2. Plan for impact and scale at every step in the process

Core to IDEA to IMPACT is that launch and scale-up are not things you can start thinking about after you’ve developed a product and completed clinical trials—all aspects of delivery need to be incorporated throughout the project. But how can you keep your eye on this goal the entire time?

The Meningitis Vaccine Project faced this challenge when it embarked on an effort to create an affordable, effective vaccine to protect the more than 400 million people at risk in Africa’s Meningitis Belt. PATH and the World Health Organization (WHO) had to simultaneously focus on developing a scientifically sound vaccine and putting it through rigorous clinical trials and regulatory processes, while at the same time working to improve the ability of countries in the region to conduct studies and prepare to administer the vaccine.

The guide includes practical companion tools for outlining the steps required and how and when to plan for impact and scale. The tools provided can serve as examples and inspiration for global health practitioners to start thinking through delivery considerations early on in the design process.

3. Need is not enough

Just because a product fills a need, or has the potential to save many lives, does not mean people will line up out the door to buy it.

This lesson is highlighted in the guide through a case study of CycleBeads®, a family planning tool created by Georgetown University’s Institute for Reproductive Health and Cycle Technologies. Looking at a high unmet need for family planning in Mali and backed by the Ministry of Health, the partners overestimated demand and ended up scaling back. Pilot studies are often useful to test market acceptance and determine demand generation needs.

Godrej and Boyce’s low-cost chotuKool refrigerator. Photo: Godrej and Boyce.

Godrej and Boyce’s low-cost chotuKool refrigerator. Photo: chotuKool.

4. Don’t be afraid to fail (or pivot)

Taking a cue from Silicon Valley, the global health community should not be afraid to fail. The good news is that doesn’t always mean scrapping a project. Often it just takes a “pivot.” For example, Godrej and Boyce’s case study describes how they originally wanted to scale down an existing refrigerator model for lower-income users, but when research made it clear this plan would not work, they shifted their approach and designed a completely new product from the ground up.

5. Don’t forget the regulatory and policy environment

Another vital piece is the policy and regulatory environment in your target market. Of course there will be mandated processes, but don’t forget about other policies needed to support your product. An endorsement from WHO or inclusion in a national policy may be key to unlocking many opportunities for scaling up, as is highlighted in the case study about WHO’s guideline on community use of misoprostol to prevent postpartum hemorrhage.

We use these steps to test, introduce, and scale a product and measure impact, but the good news is they are concrete and achievable. And now you have another great tool to help: the full IDEA to IMPACT guide and companion materials also includes a toolkit.

More information

Steve Brooke is a commercialization advisor at PATH, where he plays a lead role in public-private product development collaborations, product commercialization strategies, and intellectual property management. David Milestone is a senior market access advisor at USAID, Center for Accelerating Innovation and Impact (CII), where he focuses on the development and implementation of market-based strategies to accelerate the adoption of priority health products.

Friday Think: why syringes should self-destruct

SoloShot syringe is inserted into a vial.

A PATH designed SoloShot™ syringe can only be used once, reducing reuse and possible disease transmission. Photo: PATH/Will Boase.

A brief history of vaccines takes us back over a thousand years ago—when it’s said the Chinese learned to remove matter from smallpox scabs to build immunities of the disease in healthy people via a scratch in their arm.

We live in better days since those rudimentary inoculations. Fast forward to the advent of syringes, and the process for delivering vaccines was made even safer with more predictable results.

So why did the World Health Organization (WHO) put out a call for the world to adopt self-destructing syringes?

A 2014 WHO-sponsored study (using data as recent as 2010) found that the improper use of injections caused an estimated 1.7 million people to be infected with the hepatitis B virus, 315 000 with the hepatitis C virus, and potentially 33 800 with HIV.

Reporter Todd Frankel goes into more detail in a recent Washington Post Wonkblog post about why syringes should self-destruct:

The WHO’s quest began in 1987–just as the spread of a disease called HIV was beginning to cause alarm. At the same time, the widespread switch from glass syringe tubes to plastic ones made reuse even more risky, since glass containers could be disinfected with heat, while plastic melted and warped.

Close up of syringe and cap

The SoloShot™ syringe. Photo: PATH/Glenn Austin.

One place that took up the challenge was Path, [at the time] a small international health technology nonprofit in Seattle. Staff already had begun playing around with different designs two years earlier. They knew they had to make their invention work with existing plastic syringes to keep costs down, said Steve Brooke, the company’s commercialization adviser. …

Path came up with a plastic syringe with a metal clip inside it that locked into place after the plunger was depressed. A syringe manufacturer licensed the product. In 1990, the Soloshot hit the market. Since then, it has been used to deliver more than 6 billion vaccine shots.Friday Think logo

Read this piece in its entirety on the Washington Post Wonkblog.

Each week, we scour the news for the hottest stories on innovation. Our weekly feature, The Friday Think, highlights one we’ve found particularly fascinating.

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My kind of hero: a global health profile

Today’s donor profile of Bob Dickerson was written by Lesley Reed, a PATH staff writer and personal friend of Bob’s.

Bob Dickerson walking through a government hallway.

“I have had a wonderful life, beyond what I ever could have imagined,” says Bob Dickerson, who has survived 15 years of cancer. Photo: Rebecca Sullivan.

Bob Dickerson was practicing law in Seattle when he was diagnosed with a slow growing and incurable form of cancer in 1999. His doctors gave him anywhere from 1 to 20 years to live.

So, with his characteristic combination of pragmatism and enthusiasm, Bob launched a new career.

“I chose to assume what they said was true. I quit my job. I wanted to have death without regrets.”

Fifteen years later, it’s clear the man with the big heart, boisterous laugh, and tenacious commitment to children has achieved his goal.

Hero on the House floor

I met Bob three years after his diagnosis. By then, he’d become one of Washington State’s most committed advocates for ending global poverty. He volunteered full-time as the leader of the Seattle chapter of RESULTS, an advocacy organization that helps raise political will and funding for anti-poverty programs, including those that tackle global health.

Ever aware of death nipping at his heels, Bob met with members of Congress and global leaders hundreds of times, pressing them to increase funding to prevent the deaths of children; address HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria; and ensure that everyone has access to education and opportunity. And he inspired people like me, who felt hopeless about influencing our government.

Bob is a man who feels deeply and is just as deeply determined to make change happen. He can be moved to tears one minute and exhorting those around him to do more the next. He mentored RESULTS volunteer activists like me in how to speak to elected representatives with head and heart, and pushed us to make the world a better place—always with love and appreciation for our efforts.

Bob Dickerson (second from left) laughs with Washington Senator Patty Murray .

Bob Dickerson (second from left) laughs with Washington Senator Patty Murray during a meeting to solicit her support for global health programs. Photo: PATH/Lesley Reed.

And what success! This past December, Senator Patty Murray told more than 200 hundred people who had gathered to honor the man: “Bob never let me or my staff forget the plight of the poor at home and abroad.”

In October, Congressman Adam Smith recognized Bob on the House floor, saying, “His passionate and ever present voice for the powerless—especially children—is truly remarkable.”

Devoted to making a difference

Not surprisingly, Bob learned about PATH during a meeting with a congressional office. One of PATH’s disease experts was there, and Bob was impressed by his knowledge. “After that, PATH was always on my radar.”

He became a regular at PATH events and a donor. He recognizes that we can’t do this work alone. Ending poverty, he says, calls for the triad of government with its resources and influence, advocacy groups like RESULTS who raise awareness and apply pressure, and “successful organizations like PATH who can get smart interventions and best practices to the people who need them.”

In a class that never gives up

Closeup of Bob Dickerson.

PATH donor Bob Dickerson. Photo: RESULTS/Lesley Reed.

One Saturday after we heard that Bob had entered hospice, dozens of his fans gathered in his living room to sing. Before we left, he asked me to share a story I’d once told him, of a baby I held in Niger during one of the country’s famines—a baby who did not survive. Unbeknownst to me, that little boy was one of Bob’s inspirations to protect all children everywhere.

Turning to the youngest person in the room, a young woman he’d watch grow up, Bob said, “I can’t imagine not having you in this world.” Just as we were all beginning to cry, he reminded us to write letters to the editor, calling on the US to commit $1 billion at the upcoming pledging conference for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Being tired is no excuse, he said.

He should know. Bob now sleeps more than 16 hours a day, but he still communicates with members of Congress and even tabled at a local community college last week.

“I am in a class that never wants to give up,” he says. “Because life for me is easy. I don’t have the right to give up when there are children and poor people dying and suffering needlessly.”

An opportunity to have no regrets

So this is what death without regrets can look like: In the time that Bob has dedicated his life to this work, child deaths have dropped by more than half, and the end of preventable child deaths is now a realistic goal.

“We look back at Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jonas Salk, or the other people we read about in history books who made such a difference for people who were suffering. We have a chance to be there with them,” says Bob. “If a group of us makes a difference—that’s history-making. To me, it’s one of those opportunities you just can’t pass up.”

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Friday Think: airbags in cars, sure. But for skiers?

Airbag deployed in car with dummy.

An automotive airbag deploys in a car with a dummy. Photo: DaimlerChrysler AG/Wikimedia Commons.

After the first airbags were introduced to the automotive world in the 1970s, it took two decades of lobbying and legislative wrangling for the technology to become a standard manufacturing feature. And now these lifesaving devices are required in every car that’s sold in the US.

Today, automotive airbags are a no-brainer. And consumers are the first to say that they clearly benefit from the added safety.

A skier wearing a Dainese airbag.

The alpine airbag design makes sense, but will competitive skiers use them? Photo: Dainese.

But try introducing that same technology to athletes who throw themselves down steep mountain slopes at breakneck speeds with little more than Lycra and a helmet to protect them.

You’ll find most of them want nothing to do with it.

Airbags look funny, they’re constricting, and they might impact speed

Sam Borden (with contributor Kelley McMillan) writes about a proposal to use this established technology on the hills in the New York Times article, “Airbag Is Approved, but Ski Racers Are Largely Shunning It for Now”:

Broken collarbones. Shattered shoulders. Internal bleeding. Punctured lungs. Those injuries, and worse, are possible every time a world-class skier plunges out of a starting gate and slides down a snowy racecourse.

Given that, it is not surprising that skiing’s international governing body recently approved for use an airbag safety device that has been in development for nearly four years. But many racers have expressed reluctance toward the new technology. . . .

In the article, United States Olympian skier Marco Sullivan sums it up best,

“No one is going to wear it until everyone is wearing it.”

But here’s where the old technology meets the new user-focused design, and things get interesting:

In 2011, Dainese, working with F.I.S. (a skiing federation, known by its French acronym), began developing an airbag that could be used in skiing. The challenges were considerable. First, there was the matter of creating a system that could consistently determine when it was needed, effectively distinguishing the difference between skiers who lost their balance but were able to recover and skiers who lost their balance and went into a dangerous tumble.

…Vittorio Cafaggi, a manager for strategic development at Dainese, said in an interview at the company’s research and development lab in Molvena. “It isn’t enough for it to just protect you; it has to know when you need protection, too.”

To make that possible, Dainese’s technicians use gyroscopes, accelerometers and a GPS tracking device to monitor an athlete’s position, angle to the ground and speed. If a skier’s angle and speed suddenly change drastically, sending the values outside the algorithm’s normal range, the airbag inflates.

The airbags have been approved for use since December 2014, but the only skier who’s worn the device during competition so far is Mirena Küng, a Swiss skier, during a women’s event in St. Moritz, Switzerland. And although the airbag scored a neutral rating during aerodynamic tests, Mirena did not come in first.Friday Think logo

You can read this article in its entirety at the New York Times.

Each week, we scour the news for the hottest stories on innovation. Our weekly feature, The Friday Think, highlights one we’ve found particularly fascinating.

PATH’s vaccine imperative: protecting children at home and abroad

In an op-ed that appears in The Hill, CEO and president of PATH, Steve Davis, shares his views on why we need to make a global commitment for the safe, continued, and expanded use of vaccines to protect children here and overseas. Following is an excerpt:

Seated nurse pinches a young girl's cheeks and ues a dropper to place vaccine in the girl's mouth.

A nurse gives a polio vaccine to a young girl. Photo: PATH/Richard Franco.

Portrait of Steve Davis.

Steve Davis is president and CEO of PATH. Photo: Auston James.

Every parent wants the best for their child

A trip to Disneyland is supposed to be a dream come true for a child. But in December, “The Happiest Place on Earth” became the epicenter of a measles outbreak that has infected 67 people to date, including young children. This latest outbreak has drawn attention to the fact that the anti-vaccination movement in the United States is putting people of all ages at risk of highly contagious diseases like measles, which had previously been eliminated here.

We know that vaccines are one of the most cost-effective ways to save lives and support development. We also know—and saw with searing clarity this fall with Ebola—that disease knows no borders. For these reasons, the US has a dual obligation. We must focus not only on urging the vaccinations necessary to protect our own children from infectious disease, but continue to do our part to ensure preventable diseases like measles are controlled or stomped out everywhere.

A woman holds an infant in her lap as an oral vaccine is dispensed into the infant's mouth.

An infant receives a vaccine against polio. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

But the current measles outbreak proves once again that the successes we have achieved in the US and abroad will take ongoing effort and commitment to sustain. The world we live in is increasingly complex and interdependent. To protect our gains, we must make a global commitment to the safe, continued, and expanded use of vaccines.

You can read Steve Davis’s full op-ed in The Hill.

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Meet the “Valentine Pill” and three other innovations

A father and mother with their children in front of their home in Uganda.

Scovia Namuyiga with her husband Vincent Mawano and their children, in front of their home in Uganda. They use family planning to space their children so they can choose the size of their family. Photo: PATH/Will Boase.

PATH’s reproductive health teams are hard at work spreading the love in an effort to make sure that women and couples can access and use their preferred contraceptive method.

And to illustrate, we’re highlighting a few of the family planning innovations PATH has had a hand in designing, developing, testing, or delivering to women and their partners around the world—as well as sharing responses from some of the people these innovations are designed to reach.

The Woman’s Condom

Developed by PATH and research partners with input from women and their partners, this innovative method was designed to protect from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV.

Two women examine a Woman's Condom.

“My message to the ladies is: don’t give away your power, but make a choice to live a happy and fulfilled life free of unplanned pregnancies, STIs, and HIV. Try female condoms, it’s the best thing you can do for yourself and your loved one.” —Married woman, South Africa. Photo: PATH.

The Sayana® Press

Sayana Press is a lower-dose formulation of the three-month contraceptive Depo-Provera® in the Uniject™ injection system. PATH has played a role in the Sayana Press journey, from developing its Uniject delivery mechanism to conducting upcoming research on self-injection.

Hand holding Sayana Press, a tiny needle attached to a small bubble of plastic filled with contraceptive.

“Self-injection of Sayana Press might have a catalyzing effect, involving the husbands. Because the husband can call it in for his wife and go get it. So it can really be catalyzing for the husbands and their involvement in family planning.” —Family planning NGO representative, Senegal. Photo: PATH/Will Boase.

The SILCS Diaphragm

The SILCS diaphragm, marketed as CayaTM is a reusable, nonhormonal, one-size fits-most contraceptive device that women helped to design.

A woman holding a SILCS diaphragm in her hands.

“I purchased a Caya diaphragm and absolutely love it! I’ve been using diaphragms for 28 years but this design is far superior as it is easier insertion, easier removal, and, of course, one-size fits-most. Women really need to know how easy, practical, and with no side effects a diaphragm is.” —A Caya diaphragm user, North America. Photo: PATH/PatrickMcKern.

Pericoital or on-demand oral contraceptive

This is a new type of contraceptive pill, in early stages of development, that a woman could take before or after sex to prevent pregnancy—on demand, rather than daily.

A woman stands outside with an infant strapped to her back.

“It should have a beautiful name…the love pill, friendly pill, Valentine pill. It should be packaged in love colours.” —Health provider, Uganda. Photo: PATH/Will Boase.

A brighter future for everyone

When women can plan their families, independently or with their partners, they live healthier lives. And healthier mothers mean healthier children and improved child survival. Families may also have more resources to better care for and educate those children, and communities benefit when women can participate in broader economic and community activities.

We strive to make the world a better place for women, and their families, every day of the year. To learn more about the impact our innovations have had around the global, visit our reproductive health and family planning programs.

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Friday Think: HIV test results in 15 minutes via smartphone

HIV and syphilis diagnostic test: plastic components attached to a smartphone.

An accurate new HIV and syphilis diagnostic test utilizes a smartphone and accessories. Photo: Tassaneewan Laksanasopin.

As technology becomes increasingly embedded in our everyday lives, our phones—and the accessories that we sync to them—do more than make calls, send texts, and click pics. They’ve really become portable data-gathering and synthesizing devices.

Demand is high for personal electronic devices that make health care cheaper and more accessible. And no wonder. Their cost, interface, and size make them ideal tools for point-of-care diagnostics. (Want to take your pulse? See how your blood glucose levels are doing after lunch? Check your smartphone.)

A dongle, a drop of blood, and a phone = a dual test for HIV and syphilis

Researchers at Columbia University have figured out a way to find out, in 15 minutes, if an individual has HIV or syphilis. The original intent behind the design of this test was to help reduce the infection rate of HIV and syphilis from mothers to their children as these two diseases have a high potential for transmission.

Here’s an excerpt from an article written by Abby Phillip of the Washington Post:

Researchers at Columbia University have taken the mechanics of a laboratory test for HIV and syphilis and crammed them into a device the size of a wallet.

It attaches to a smartphone and can provide accurate results in 15 minutes. . . .the device could help make in-field tests for sexually transmitted diseases faster and more accurate in places where a second visit to a doctor for treatment isn’t feasible.

“If you can start to bring core health services to the smartphone beyond just measuring the heart rate—like blood tests—then you’re going to start seeing a pretty fundamental shift in the health-care system,” said Samuel Sia, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia, and an author of the paper on the device published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

The new device essentially replicates the HIV test considered a gold standard for laboratory testing, as well as the same kind of syphilis tests you might get in a standard laboratory. But it produces results 10 times more quickly and, in a small study, Sia’s team found it to be very accurate.

“The cost, size and power. . .those three things, we just reduced it by orders of magnitude from what we did before,” Sia said, noting that his team first began working on the technology about 10 years ago, before the first iPhone even existed. “It replicates all the things that a lab-based robot would do.”

“We’re actually not really developing a totally new way of doing things, but insFriday Think logotead we’re just replicating what lab-based instruments do, step by step.”

To learn more about the impact of this new test, read Abby Phillip’s full article in the Washington Post.

Each week, we scour the news for the hottest stories on innovation. Our weekly feature, The Friday Think, highlights one we’ve found particularly fascinating.

PATH recognizes the contributions of Dr. Gaetano Borriello

Gaetano Borriello.

One of Gaetano Borriello’s remarkable abilities was to anticipate trends so he could be an early developer of technologies that would later be deployed in low-resource settings. Photo: UW.

Dr. Gaetano Borriello, University of Washington professor of Computer Science & Engineering, passed away at his home following a long fight with cancer. This remembrance was written by PATH’s Richard Anderson, a colleague of Dr. Borriello’s at the University of Washington.

On February 1, PATH and the entire global health community lost a great friend and innovator.

Dr. Borriello’s work often focused on applying mobile technologies to public health problems in the developing world.

He led the Open Data Kit (ODK) project, developing a suite of open source tools to support mobile data collection solutions. The tools were designed to be “easy to try, easy to use, easy to modify, and easy to scale.”

Health worker tapping the screen of a smartphone.

Teams working with PATH’s MACEPA program in Zambia use Android smartphones equipped with Open Data Kit software to collect demographic information as they go house-to-house testing and treating for malaria. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

Dr. Borriello’s projects and students played an important role in a range of PATH projects including:

  • Human Milk Banking, where the FoneAstra Temperature Monitor is a crucial component of a low-cost milk pasteurization system.
  • Mobile Midwife project, where mobile devices were used by nurses to support household visits with decision support, data collection, and a video education application.
  • mPneumonia, a mobile application that uses a pulse oximeter to help with the diagnosis and management of childhood pneumonia.
  • Data collection for Malaria Control and Elimination Partnership in Africa (MACEPA), where community health workers used ODK to record malaria cases.

One of Dr. Borriello’s remarkable abilities was to anticipate trends so that he could be an early developer of technologies that would later be appropriate to deploy in low-resource settings. He began his work on ODK when smartphones were exclusively a product for the affluent, arguing that they would soon be ubiquitous, creating opportunities to provide services to a vast number of people in developing countries.

In his honor, the Computer Science & Engineering Department at the University of Washington has established the Gaetano Borriello Fellowship for Change, which will support students whose work focuses on exploring how technology can improve underserved populations.

Dr. Borriello’s work has positively impacted the lives of many thousands of children and mothers in developing countries. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.

Our guest contributor today is Richard Anderson, Digital Health Solutions Group technology advisor in PATH’s Digital Health Solutions program, and a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington.

Friday Think: robots, rolling in a hospital near you

 The UCSF Medical Center employs a fleet of 25 robots. Video: CNET.

A new hospital just opened in the same region that gave birth to computing. Which is to say, the fanciest technological bells and whistles are well represented in San Francisco’s new $1.5 billion UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay.

For instance, patients communicate with their doctors via tablets and get their medications delivered by robots called “Tugs.”

This may sound cold and impersonal in a futuristic way, but the hope is that this marriage of technology to care will result in more one-on-one time between providers and patients.

“We want to use technology in a way that frees up our human providers to do what they’re good at, which is to focus on our patients,” said Dr. Seth Bokser, the center’s associate chief medical officer. “Patient-centered care is not just about putting technology into a hospital.”

But what about those robots?

A waist-high, box-shaped robot rolls past staff in a hospital hallway.

An Aethon robot shares a hospital hallway with staff. Photo: Aethon.

The fleet of more than two dozen self-directed robots is the largest number at any hospital.

Journalist Stephanie M. Lee writes more about the hospital’s rolling ‘bots and what they do in this article from the San Francisco Chronicle:

The tall, boxy computers on wheels can navigate the hospital on their own because they receive signals through Wi-Fi, and elevators and doors are designed to open for them.

In the course of a day, they carry meals, linens, medical instruments, medications and lab samples more than a dozen miles.

Programmed to know exactly who their targets are, the robots can be opened only by PIN codes and biometrics, such as fingerprints. If they get blocked en route, an engineer can redirect them.

The robots aren’t intended to replace doctors, Bokser said, but instead handle mundane, tiring tasks.

“This, for example, will free up our nursing staff from having to bring things back and forth from the lab,” he said, “from taking sample cups from the lab up to the floor and sending samples back to the lab.”Friday Think logo

It’s futuristic, but not completely so. Aethon’s robots are already used in more than 110 hospitals worldwide.

You may read the article in its entirety at the San Francisco Chronicle.

Each week, we scour the news for the hottest stories on innovation. Our weekly feature, The Friday Think, highlights one we’ve found particularly fascinating.