Dr. Vanessa Kerry, cofounder of Seed Global Health, and Pooja Wagh, a director at MIT Solve, explain how smart investments in local solutions can boost health security and scale up the pandemic response.
Covid-19 has changed our world. The widespread risk of contagion has challenged our way of existing, profoundly altered service delivery, and proven how deeply health security is integrated into every aspect of our lives.
This pandemic has also highlighted the urgency of human-centric innovations in global health and the need for those solutions to be driven by the communities they serve. The virus has exposed—and preyed—on existing social and racial inequities that have left many communities without adequate healthcare and vulnerable to disease. These issues precede Covid-19, but exacerbate its effects. If left unaddressed, they will also persist and fester.
Covid-19 has laid bare the importance of building strong health systems that can respond to threats and provide essential health services. Even during a pandemic, people still need fundamental care. They continue to have babies, struggle with high blood pressure and get cancer—addressing these quotidian health issues cannot be put on hold because of a pandemic.
We now have a distinct opportunity to change the future by investing in long-term solutions that strengthen the health workforce, enable access to high-quality care, and dismantle existing inequities, before the next pandemic. If we can shore our global health systems durably today, we can address the current challenge of Covid-19 but also mitigate future crises.
Advancing interventions that expand on-the-ground access and improve quality of care will go a long way toward addressing this crisis—and the next one. At Seed Global Health, in the last 8 years, we have seen that investments in local health providers can build enduring and life-saving changes in the health system. For resource-limited settings across the world, the best solutions will be ones that leverage this unique moment and bring us closer to health for all by alleviating systemic, racial, socio-spatial, and geographic disparities.
There’s no silver bullet here. The global issues that Covid-19 has brought to light are bigger than any one funder, government, NGO, or community. We need cross-sector collaboration to make smart investments in and raise up locally-driven innovations that tackle Covid-19 and create truly resilient health systems that undergird global health security.
MIT Solve, for example, has seen an outpouring of interest from innovators and investors in the Health Security & Pandemics Challenge launched in March. Solve has received more than 700 solutions from 95 countries, and more than $1 million in available funding, to advance the most promising ideas. The Solve network recognizes that human-centered, tech-powered solutions are out there—they just need to be surfaced, supported, and scaled.
By making critical investments in people and bolstering community-led innovations, we can prepare our health systems to respond to and not get ravaged by crises.
Already, we’re seeing how long-term thinking can respond to the pandemic in real-time, while meeting ongoing needs. Social enterprise Access Afya, for instance, procured protective gear and safe transportation for Kenyans living in slums. The team also invested in contextual education campaigns and personalized remote healthcare, so that patients know how to stay safe, even when physical distancing is impossible at home.
Startup change:WATER Labs broadened access to its iThrone toilet, which hygienically dehydrates waste in ways that effectively kills the virus within hours, while allowing for safe cleaning and disposal. And OmniVis added Covid-19 diagnostics to its cholera-detection platform utilizing a device that anyone can learn to use in less than an hour.
Solutions like these not only help to address immediate community challenges, but can also complement and aid health workers on the frontlines of crisis and care. Emerging stronger on the other side of this pandemic will take more than technological innovations. It will also require ensuring that care providers who are essential to delivering high quality and empathic care are well-trained, well-equipped, and empowered to do more. Coupling technology and the essential component of human resources for health can transform care with quality, dignity, resilience and scale. Systemic solutions only work when they keep the focus on helping people with technology, not replacing them with it.
Health is security. By making critical investments in people and bolstering community-led innovations, we can prepare our health systems to respond to and not get ravaged by crises. The scale, impact, and complexity of Covid-19 has outstripped many of our existing solutions. Now is the time to collaborate across sectors, innovate with a purpose, and actually fix those systems and structures that have been broken for far too long.
Full coverage and live updates on the Coronavirus