Barbara Bush: Technology and Innovation Supporting Global Health

Social entrepreneurs gathered this past December at the Social Innovation Summit to share lessons on how to create social good through technology and innovation. PSI Board Member and Global Health Corps co-founder Barbara Bush was one of the event’s featured speakers. Brian Sirgutz of the Huffington Post caught up with Barbara after the event to talk about technology and social good through the lens of global health.

Here is a selection of the discussion:

Brian: Your supporters include top names in information technology, like Cisco and Hewlett Packard. (Note: Cisco sponsors the ImpactX section). Can you talk a little about those relationships and how they add to your mission?

We’ve actively worked to build relationships with non-traditional partners that share our values — innovators like Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Cisco who are leading the charge to build products and systems that connect communities, and increase information sharing.

Interestingly, global health organizations desperately need many of the skills employees at multi-national corporations like HP and Cisco have. Cisco employees who are experts in management information and technology systems have mentored some of our fellows working in Malawi with Elizabeth Glaser Pediatrics AIDS Foundation to build out stronger electronic medical records and data tracking systems.

Brian: Can you elaborate a little on your belief that “Health is a human right?” In your program, how do the widely varied fields of engineering, finance, consulting, architecture and more converge in order to create that reality?

Global Health Corps believes every person deserves access to healthcare and that health is the fundamental building block to life. If you’re not healthy, you’re not able to live a full life or advance educationally and economically.

The complexity and scope of the challenges is why we intentionally enlist fellows with very diverse skill sets, from fields like architecture, technology, education, management, and finance. From advocating for policy in the PEPFAR office in Washington, D.C., to training community health workers in Burundi, our fellows help strengthen health systems that better the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in East Africa, Southern Africa, and the US.

Brian: How has your organization used technology to increase access to healthcare in the developing world? What kinds of technologies and innovation is the global health space have led to furthering your mission?

CIDRZ, one of our partner organizations in Zambia, has trained nurses in rural areas to email images of difficult-to-treat lesions to doctors working remotely to save time. Our fellows with Elizabeth Glaser Pediatrics AIDS Foundation in Zambia train midwives on electronic health record systems to reduce misdiagnoses and increase care coordination.

Across Africa, SMS messaging delivers test results to patients. One of Global Health Corps’ advisors encourages Rwandans to tweet whenever there are stock-outs of drugs at their local clinic or pharmacy so that the Ministry of Health can act.