Data, drones & drugs – a few more takeaways from DWEN 2016

Our theme at this years DWEN Summit was Innovate for a Future-Ready World, and given DWEN is Dell’s Women’s Entreprenuer Network it would have been reasonable to assume that the innovation component of our discussions would have a very tech heavy focus.

While that was certainly true in some instances, Dr Nick van Terheyden, Dell’s Medical Officer, took advantage of local illustrations to remind us that while the West tends to think it owns innovation, true innovation is driven by the lack of resources and capabilities more commonly experienced in the majority world, the term now used in preference to the largely inaccurate, out-of-date developing countries or third world terminology.

Despite the basic nature of the technology, as the link here illustrates text messaging is saving lives simply by providing access to health care information to those who need it most, when they need it.

The Wonderbag, Sarah Collin’s non-electric portable slow cooker involves no technology at all but has the ability to transform the lives of the up to 3 billion people globally who cook their meals on an open fire.  It allows users to bring food to the boil, then remove it from the heat source, place the pot in the bag and deliver a nutritious meal without the need for additional heat or preparation time.  The impact of this is felt in a variety of ways, from limiting the consumption of the diminishing fuel sources whilst still allowing African people to maintain their traditional nutrient sources of slow cooked beans and grains, to addressing the time poverty which gathering the wood and maintaining fires creates.  With this task traditionally done by women and children, the time required prevents them from participating in employment and education so the use of the Wonderbag delivers so much more than just a tasty meal.

Interestingly now Wonderbag is also becoming a data company, with the information its users are sharing via their mobile phones on what they are cooking and eating providing a valuable source of information previously unavailable.

Another fascinating diversification opportunity for the Wonderbag was one first identified by a field healthcare worker who used its insulation capabilities to provide a cold chain storage solution for the medication she needed to transport.  

As in other majority world markets, smart phone penetration is driving many of the innovation initiatives. With a lack of existing technology infrastructure, much of Africa’s internet access is delivered via mobile phones and seeking out solutions to the infrastructure gaps is delivering ideas which not only catch up to but leapfrog over existing options.

To illustrate, Dr Nick talked about the likelihood that the lack of traditional diagnostic medical testing services will not be addressed, with the problem addressed instead by a move straight to smartphone enabled genomic sequencing.

As a healthcare professional I find this absolutely fascinating, and it definitely stimulated a lot of thinking around how we can make sure we not only keep pace with these exciting developments, but also incorporate them into the work we are doing at Epic Digital. 

The potential role for drones in the delivery of healthcare services to African communities also provided an interesting discussion, again providing  an opportunity to leapfrog over the infrastructure challenges associated with delivery of therapies and collection of test samples using traditional logistic solutions. 

I came away from DWEN with my mind filled of ideas of a not too distant future, where smartphone diagnotics result in drones delivering the necessary  medicines or therapies (packaged up in Wonderbags of course!), with ongoing patient support  delivered utilizing smartphones.   While these developments have great potential benefit not only in Africa but in other majority world markets where the infrastructure challenges are similar, it was clear to me they also have just as much application in remote Australia.

A huge thank you to Dell for making this event happen, and enabling the conversations to occur. I have no doubt that this years DWEN will create real action, just as I’ve experienced post the  previous three I’ve had the privilege to be part of. 

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