Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bill Gates Speaks on Global Health

Using mobile technology along with inexpensive diagnostic tools can help maintain good health globally but it is equally important to provide effective vaccines, reports Bill Gates Founder of Microsoft and Co-Chair and Trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He made his remarks at the 2010 mHealth Summit keynote luncheon held on November 9th in Washington D.C.

He offers the premise that mobile phones and other technologies offer some big advantages in improving healthcare throughout the world. However, computing technology is especially valuable to the research side and contributes to the development of many of the new vaccines now on the market. As a result of the financial crises, some budgets have been cut affecting basic research so some vaccine research programs tend to be underfunded.

Gates wants to see great efforts made to keep the world’s population under control. If we look at countries with good health, they tend to have lower population growth rates resulting in more care given to individual children and therefore serious illnesses happen less frequently with fewer deaths resulting.

He also noted that since 1960, there has been a dramatic reduction in infant and child mortality as it went from 20 million to 8.5 million. Other factors besides population control contribute to the reduction in mortality in the world, such as having better food available, improved living conditions, somewhat better healthcare, but also helping is the fact that many people worldwide receive smallpox, polio, TB, and measles vaccinations.

Gates went on to discuss how improving global health can be as easy as using inexpensive tools such as cell phones to diagnose diseases. Just using a simple program to remind people to take medications on a regular basis is just one step needed to improve global health and vaccination programs. Another step would be to follow up on drugs given to patients to see if they are working effectively.

He also envisions the health community using the latest mobile technologies to obtain important information to make vaccination programs more effective. Mobile devices could be used to register births, obtain fingerprints for identification purposes, and find information on locations where people need vaccines. Healthcare workers would then have valuable information as to know exactly what areas and what groups of people are currently vaccinated or need vaccines for specific diseases.

Gates also believes that robots will take the lead in healthcare and will play a very strong role in the future. For example, robots could be used to move equipment around and help caregivers with such chores as lifting patients. One advantage is that robots will be able to work 24/7 without getting tired and the technological wonders will probably never forget how or when to do their specific chores.

As he explained, robots may even be able to help with maternal mortality especially in rural or slum areas in developing countries. C sections are needed in developing countries but the operations need to be done in a sterile environment with specific knowledge and expertise on hand provided by the health and medical community which is not always available. Gates pointed out that in some ways, it is a routine procedure. So perhaps, in the future, robots could even be used to perform C sections in isolated situations with doctors or healthcare workers overseeing the operation at a distance.

Gates told the attendees that the Foundation is very interested in expanding their philanthropy and he would like see a group of small exploration grants awarded in the range of $10,000 to find new ideas worldwide. On November 9th, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded 65 grants through the “Grand Challenges Explorations” initiative with funding going to 16 countries for $100,000. The program is in place to enable investigators to pursue new bold ideas for transforming health.

Ideas currently being funded in the “Grand Challenges” initiative include studies on developing innovative vaccine strategies and doing a better job to deliver TB vaccinations, developing low-cost mobile phone tools to help identify complications for community health workers caring for pregnant women and newborns, and a project to develop solar powered therapeutic blankets of light for newborns suffering from jaundice.

In the previous five rounds of the Grand Challenges initiative, 405 researchers received awards representing 34 countries. Grants have been awarded to develop a synthetic lymph node to deliver vaccines, a low cost needle free treatment has been created for post-partum bleeding, and a mobile phone-based tool has been developed combining diagnostic testing.

For more information on the “Grand Challenges” initiative go to and for more information on the 2010 mHealth Summit, go to