Our Global Voices Posts
World Malaria Day falls on Saturday this year, so I’ll spend some part of the day catching up on household chores. I can sometimes find moments of inspiration in the mental space created by simple tasks like running the vacuum cleaner. This year, malaria endemic countries and their global partners are reflecting on the remarkable progress achieved—over 4 million young lives saved in just over a decade. The annual commemoration is equally an opportunity to imagine the promise of a world without malaria. While the horizon for malaria eradication is at least a generation off, it is time to begin anticipating what elimination will require. There’s no doubt that new and better information will be a key element. The global malaria successes of the last decade are credited to proven tools like mosquito nets and effective diagnosis and treatment. Naturally, the information systems established to track this historic effort focus on counting malaria commodities and tracking the coverage of interventions at intervals of several years. Moving forward it will be more and more important to develop surveillance systems that identify who gets ill (or infected) with malaria, as well as when and where.
How and when to make this transition to new information systems isn’t clear. But even where the work of malaria control programs remains unfinished—there are still too many households without bednets and too many small children and pregnant women who don’t get the treatment they need—investing in the future of malaria requires building the information systems now. To begin with, it will take time for new surveillance systems based on laboratory-confirmed cases to become fully operational. And after that, they’ll need to operate for a few years before public health officials can rely on the data to detect outbreaks or hotspots of transmission. These future concerns are hard for many of us who practice global health to prioritize when resources are tight and in the face of more immediate needs for life-saving commodities. Another reason that it’s difficult to begin building elimination-ready information systems is that despite our ultra-connected world, we are still constrained to thinking of surveillance systems as the pen-and-paper burdens that they are. Now what they could or will be. Few of us can imagine what a 21st century information environment optimized for malaria elimination will feel like (in all the tactile and emotive senses of that phrase).
That’s where my vacuum cleaner comes to mind again. It’s featured in several museums around the world—and not as a relic of the past. In addition to his tremendous commercial success, its inventor has become a household name and a design icon. In recent years, the distinctive ways designers approach and address their work have gained academic legitimacy. “Design thinking” is now being recommended as an approach to a whole range of human concerns and affords a fresh perspective on why it makes sense to begin working now on the malaria information systems we’ll need for malaria elimination programs. Designers are accustomed to balancing many of the same concerns that we as public health practitioners confront: applying available technology to meet a human need under practical economic constraints. Both fields are human-centered and focused on future aspirations. But design thinking and the design process tend to be more deliberate about including the human users in early stages of development, and engaging with them through an iterative process of prototyping, refining, and redesigning. The design approach can also seem more forgiving of innovations that don’t pan out. An ideal design is the result of an incremental process equally informed by success and setback. Applying such an approach to malaria surveillance would involve more than just planning carefully and collecting several years of baseline data. Building the systems that health workers and malaria program managers will use to eliminate can start with involving them in testing and revising them along the way. The end result could incorporate their preferences and exploit advanced communication technologies, which are also certain to evolve over time.
I’m enthusiastic about how design thinking can be applied to problems like malaria information systems. I expect the result might be as different from pen-and-paper surveillance systems as my award-winning vacuum cleaner is from my grandmother’s rug beater.Posted on by
This post is part of the #ProtectingKids blog series. Read the whole series here. Living as a child in Kabul, Afghanistan in the 1970’s meant going to the bazaar on the weekends with my parents. My two sisters and I would climb in the back of our Volkswagen Kombi and my father would drive us Read More >Posted on by
This blog was originally posted on Huffington Post on February 18, 2015. Speed is paramount in our response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa as we continue to be vigilant in the fight to extinguish Ebola. The faster we get to communities with suspected cases, the faster we protect the people there. That gets us Read More >Posted on by
The food supply in the United States is constantly evolving. U.S. consumers want convenience, choice, and diversity in the foods they eat. The U.S. is importing more food than ever before in order to meet these demands. In 2009, imported food accounted for 17% of food consumed by Americans (up from 15% in 2004).  Read More >Posted on by
In late November 2014, during the peak of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, I was deployed to Sierra Leone to support CDC’s Ebola response efforts. Like many of my colleagues, I wasn’t sure what to expect or where to begin, but I knew that we faced immense challenges, and my skills and expertise in Read More >Posted on by
For more than 20 years, Kenya has been providing asylum to people fleeing civil war and conflict from Somalia. Many first reach Dadaab refugee camp, located in Garissa County, Kenya, about 50 miles from the Somali border where the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and partners provide humanitarian relief and protection assistance. In Read More >Posted on by
To many, the idea of living in a world where there is no effective treatment for tuberculosis (TB) seems unthinkable. After all, we live in a modern era, with hospitals and drugs at our fingertips. TB is considered by some to be a disease of the past. But every year, more than 9 million people Read More >Posted on by
CDC partners with Bloomberg Philanthropies to strengthen public health data collection in developing countries
Did you know that each year 35 million deaths go unrecorded worldwide, and that the causes of millions more deaths are never documented? Today, 80% of the world’s population lives in countries that do not collect reliable cause-of-death statistics. According to the World Health Organization, “When deaths go uncounted and the causes of death are Read More >Posted on by
World Water Day is an opportunity to evaluate the importance of improved sanitation and hygiene in the health of the world’s population. Access to basic hygiene and sanitation facilities helps people stay healthy and prevent the spread of disease. Water and Ebola The world is currently battling to stop the largest Ebola outbreak in history. Read More >Posted on by
This March 3 marks the first annual World Birth Defects Day, launched by a network of 12 leading global health organizations. The purpose of this observance is to raise awareness about the occurrence of birth defects, develop and implement primary prevention programs, and expand referral and care services for all persons with birth defects. Our Read More >Posted on by
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