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In Davos, Rx for epidemics: tech partnerships

January 18, 2017 by Steve Davis

Join us to defeat the next outbreak.
A man wearing an orange shirt sits in front of an open laptop.

It’s not a question of if we’ll have more epidemics, but when. PATH is bringing together corporate partners, governments, disease experts and health workers to prepare. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

“How would you like to help end malaria for good?”

That’s the pitch PATH made two years ago to Tableau, a data visualization company. Joining forces with the government of Zambia, PATH and Tableau are supporting frontline health workers with powerful data visualization tools that allow Zambia to target how to use precious resources with pinpoint accuracy.

Our shared goal: to wipe out malaria in Zambia in the next three years.

The private sector’s critical role

I am delighted to see growing recognition of the role technology companies and the private sector must play in addressing the world’s most urgent health issues here at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Steve Davis, PATH president and CEO, sits on a panel with a sign that says "Annual Meeting 2017."

Steve Davis, PATH president and CEO, speaking at the Annual Meeting 2017 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 17, 2017. Photo: World Economic Forum/Boris Baldinger.

PATH and Tableau’s collaboration illustrates the promise of what we can achieve together when the private sector, government, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) unite to improve health and save lives.

In conversations with some of the world’s foremost leaders in government, business, entertainment, and society gathering here this week (think Bill Gates, Bono, Shakira, Sheryl Sandberg), I hear increasing interest in an idea PATH has championed since our inception 40 years ago: creating cross-sector partnerships to develop market-based solutions can transform health.

Securing the future

A woman in a white lab coat sits at a desk with a digital tablet and papers.

A health worker uses a tablet to enter information from a child health card into a national electronic immunization system. Photo: PATH/Mwanaidi Msangi.

With the rising threat of disease outbreaks and epidemics, it’s never been more important to bring together our collective expertise, resources, and resolve in common cause.

It’s not a question of if we’ll have more epidemics, but when. We are all at risk. Pathogens like Zika or Ebola—or influenza, for that matter—don’t care about borders, politics, or job titles.

This is not just a health issue. It’s central to the well-being and security of nations. In six months, the 2003 SARS outbreak cost the global economy as much as $40 billion. A severe influenza pandemic could cost the world an estimated $6 trillion and cause millions of deaths.

Ultimately, epidemic preparedness will depend on our ability to connect innovations end-to-end: from identifying potential outbreaks at the earliest possible moment to mobilizing all of the health care resources to combat them, from research and development of vaccines to the logistics of delivering medicines and supplies to those who need them most.

Better together

A group of people look at maps on the wall.

PATH’s malaria elimination coordinator for MACEPA, Dr. Abdi Mohammed (right) looks over community health worker data at a health facility with a Zambian Ministry of Health official in Southern Province, Zambia. Photo: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Eliza

No one sector can do this alone.

Governments and NGOs have a critical role to play, but we will need the private sector’s insights, resources, and innovations if we are to stay ahead of emerging health threats.

At Davos this week, I’m talking about the Global Health Security partnership at PATH, a five-year program to strengthen public health systems in Vietnam, Senegal, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

I’m also sharing strategies on quickly developing and testing new vaccines through our involvement with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, an initiative that formally launches this week.

New opportunities to defeat disease

Our Visualize No Malaria campaign with Tableau and other technology companies, including Alteryx, DataBlick, EXASOL, Mapbox, Slalom, and Twilio, has created a new way forward for global health initiatives. It has also created new opportunities to tackle infectious diseases in ways we never imagined when we launched our partnership.

In Vietnam, PATH, Tableau, the Vietnamese government, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are collaborating on a data warehouse and data visualization tools that target multiple diseases, including malaria, dengue, and other health threats.

These tools provide a central system where health officials can layer information from multiple sources to identify patterns of disease as events unfold. This allows responders to alert regional colleagues about disease outbreaks sooner, marshal resources, and save lives.

We see this same transformative potential in our other corporate partnerships with companies that include Microsoft and Autodesk. These collaborations bring together a company’s resources, product donations, and expertise with PATH’s technical knowledge and on-the-ground experience to accelerate the next generation of lifesaving innovations.

The business model for saving the world

Women and children gather at a community meeting.

“When we recognize the realities of local communities and collaborate with them to engineer smart, frugal innovations, we can create sustainable progress toward better health and greater opportunity for all.”—Steve Davis. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

Because I’ve led large technology companies and teach a class on social innovation at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, I’m often asked: What’s the business model for saving the world?

The secret is working together to design solutions specifically for low-resource settings—and then delivering them at scale.

When we recognize the realities of local communities and collaborate with them to engineer smart, frugal innovations, we can create sustainable progress toward better health and greater opportunity for all. So, the question for you is this: How would you like to help defeat the next Ebola or Zika outbreak?

Get in touch with us to explore the possibilities. Share this with your networks, and sign up for updates from PATH. Thanks for joining with us to change the world.

The work with Tableau in Vietnam described in this blog was made possible through Cooperative Agreement Number 1U2GGH001812-01, funded by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The contents of this blog are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the US Department of Health and Human Services.