State of the Planet

On March 25: Look for a state of the union address unlike any other–State of the Planet 2010.

A biennial conference, hosted by the Earth Institute and The Economist, watch the world’s most influential and innovative thinkers tackle critical issues facing the world including: climate change, poverty, economic recovery and international systems.

Clearly all these issues greatly affect public health (a topic of  import to PHC), but this post will place focus particularly on poverty.

A short list of infectious diseases, treatable with inexpensive generic drugs, accounts for 70-90% of all childhood illness and death in the developing world — a truly appalling statistic.

These enormous global health disparities cause thousands of global citizens—sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers—to die each day from diseases for which cures were discovered decades ago. Such deaths do not come from disease as much as from complacency: killed by conditions that could be prevented with simple, affordable remedies: vaccinations, bednets, anti-malarials, hand sanitizer and antibiotics.

Disease has practically become an accepted part of life in impoverished communities, yet treatments are available for less than a cup of coffee. So what can be done?

Here is a list of some of the more innovative approaches to improve health or reduce costs for the poorest of the poor:

Selling to the poor: Social enterprises likes HealthStore Foundation attempt to use market mechanisms to create a private alternative for sustainable access to low-cost, high-quality medications.

Health Impact Fund: Yale’s own Thomas Pogge is leading the charge to radically change Pharma’s global IP policies by incentivizing R&D expenditure that would address substantial reductions in global burden of disease.

PATH‘s Malaria Vaccine Initiative: Funded by the Gates Foundation, a collaborative effort to create a whole new type of vaccine will save millions of lives.

The Power of the Text: FrontlineSMS:Medic leverages the power of the cell phone to save lives in developing countries.

charity:water: No one brings clean drinking water to people in developing nations better than CW. 100% of proceeds go to fund water projects.

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World AIDS Day

I thought I would share two things to help commemorate this year’s World AIDS Day.

First, a great video from avert.org:

Second, an Opinions piece I had in the Yale Daily News regarding World AIDS Day.

Acumen Fund Student Leaders Workshop

Earlier this summer, 17 students from across the US and around the world came together in New York City to talk about one thing: social entrepreneurship. I was privileged to participate in the Acumen Fund‘s inaugural Student Leaders Workshop and the experience was insightful, exciting, and humbling all at once.

While the workshop focused on poverty alleviation and development through “patient capitalism,” many of the lessons I took away from the program have significant implications for all things public health. (It seems, after all, the more public health courses I take, the more I recognize the importance of well-structured, well-managed, sustainable interventions that truly address the needs of the people served.) The solution? More focus on market mechanisms.

While market mechanisms may not work for everything (read: health care in the US), there is definitely something to say for the empowerment of the underserved by supporting a long-lasting business economy, not providing charity and aid alone. Organizations like Kiva, Ashoka, Skoll Foundation, Echoing Green, and Acumen Fund are recognizing the potential for growth, and “social returns” in a new and emerging market populus: the poor. By targeting the “base of the [economic] pyramid,” companies can find new opportunities for profit while including underserved populations in to the global economy. And not just as consumers, but producers too. It’s worth looking up if you haven’t done so before. Check out #socent on Twitter if you really want to see what’s going on.

Our student group was also fortunate enough to hear the enthusiastic words of businessman, marketing guru, best-selling author, and activist Seth Godin. He offered a lot if interesting wisdom and a challenge to young students to fight against the status quo and truly make a difference in the world. One of his pearls worth listening to: “Don’t go to medical school.”

The group of passionate, out-spoken, intelligent students (of whom I came across clearly by mistake) came to the workshop each offering their unique skills, vision, and ideals. Each left with enthusiasm to continue the work of creating positive social change and each left with a determination to continue the push for a social movement to end global poverty.

Currently, the group is working on developing a new product that will help spread awareness for the ideas of social entrepreneurship in bringing about change in poverty alleviation, health, and sustainable energy. Additionally, a viral film is in production to bring people together from all over the world to see what changes can be made through social enterprise (Find out more here or get involved here)

Let’s get to work.