Villagers rejoice as they receive the first vaccines ever delivered via drone in the Congo

The area's topography makes transporting medicines a treacherous task.

Photo by Henry Sempangi Senyule

When we discuss barriers to healthcare in the developed world, affordability is commonly the biggest concern. But for some in the developing world, physical distance and topography can be the difference between life and death.

Widjifake, a hard-to-reach village in northwestern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with a population of 6,500, struggles with having consistent access to healthcare supplies due to the Congo River and its winding tributaries.

It can take up to three hours for vehicles carrying supplies to reach the village.

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About two months after my son was born last year, I noticed that he was fussy and tugging at his ears. As a new mother, my instinct was to trump off to his pediatrician’s office, to confirm that he had an ear infection. He prescribed an antibiotic dose to clear it up. While not thrilled at the prospect of giving my newborn a drug therapy, we returned home and I prepared the initial dose.

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Figures of Progress: Martin Kohn, Chief Medical Scientist, IBM Research

IBM researcher Martin Kohn talks about what goes into the training of super computer, Watson.

This content is brought to you by IBM. GOOD and IBM have teamed up to bring you the Figures of Progress series to explore the different ways that information has revolutionized our world. Click here to read more stories.

What type of tools could we give physicians so they could determine a diagnosis faster, and more accurately? The Watson research team at IBM is working to help bring their exclusive Watson technology to the exam room, enabling physicians and nurses to gain insights using the analytical power of the groundbreaking supercomputer.

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Better Design, Better Health: Bringing Telemedicine to Rural India

WHP is bringing better healthcare to rural India through telemedicine and drug delivery.

26-year old Rinku has been bleeding for days. It is a thick, persistent and painful blood that terrifies this mother of four. So she did what many village women in rural India do when health problems reach a certain level of severity; she made the multi-hour trip to a private hospital in the district town of Muzzafarpur hoping for high-quality, if expensive, healthcare.
India is administratively organized into state towns, district towns, block marketplaces, and then villages. Healthcare, as such, is distributed along that supply chain with each level of infrastructure offering a lower standard of care. Rinku's home state of Bihar in northeast India may be the country's fastest growing region, but 85 percent of its 100 million residents live in rural areas and therefore have only immediate access to healthcare at the bottom end of that chain.
This has profound implications on the lives of people, and especially women like Rinku, who have to travel long distances for curative care, much less preventative care. It is these people that Gopi Gopalakrishan, founder of World Health Partners (WHP) and recent recipient of the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship, is trying to reach.
His big idea? Build an ecosystem atop the existing private sector. WHP is essentially trying to connect every level of the system from rural health practitioners to pharmacists, drug wholesalers, diagnostic centers and what WHP is calling LMO's, Last Mile Outriders. These are the entrepreneurs delivering medications that last mile from the block to the village level.

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Solving Wicked Problems: Using Systems Thinking in Design

Before designing a solution to a "wicked problem" like climate change or healthcare, it's helpful to map out the whole system.

My classmates and I are in the Design for Social Innovation program because we identified problems in our communities, companies, or cultures and are keen to figure them out. But before talking about any solution or outcome, we’ve learned that you must first frame the problem—by thoughtfully examining the system it’s part of to understand where and how to get involved.
For me, this was a refreshing approach to design after spending several years in NYC healthcare advertising agencies where we rarely considered the social context of our work. We delivered a churn of logos using a straightforward process our clients loved, but it didn’t feel relevant to the world in which we all lived. If we’d been more conscious of the interconnected system of pharma, healthcare policy, and real communities, our design would have likely made a bigger impact and we would have certainly been more proud of it.
Learning to use systems thinking, a holistic approach to problem solving that emphasizes contextual understanding, has helped me with team management, project planning, creative work, and even relationships. And for wicked problems like healthcare that confront business, nature, and society, it’s proving to be imperative.
In 1973, social scientists Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber defined wicked problems as those incomprehensibly complex and messy issues we have trouble defining, let alone attempting to solve. Climate change has proven one of the most wicked, as have healthcare, corruption, and the prison system. Such problems are inherently systemic, with unavoidable social complications that require flexibility and patience.
Let’s use Mayor Bloomberg’s soda ban as an example. It’s an issue tied to obesity and diabetes, NYC’s urban plan, the beverage industry, and cultural norms. Where to even begin? “We have to invent boundaries for clarity and sanity,” advises systems thinking pioneer Donella Meadows. Sometimes a simple infographic like this one works to tell the story (it shows the history, culture, and science of sugar consumption, but doesn’t overextend into policy or planning, which might dilute its message). Designing visual maps and models helps us immediately find connections and describe relationships. I’ve always been a fan of writing outlines to frame an argument or plan a project; creating models now helps me see the big picture and my place within it.

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From School Science Fairs to Designing a Smartphone App That Diagnoses Malaria

These grad students designed Lifelens, an app that lets you snap picture of a blood sample to determine if it's infected with malaria.

What if you could take a picture of a blood sample with your smartphone and have an app tell you if someone has malaria. That's exactly what Lifelens, a breakthrough technology project designed by five young recent college grads and graduate students is able to do. Given the mortality rates of malaria across the developing world, the technology has the potential to save millions of lives.

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